Two Christchurch writers named 2020 UC Writers in Residence

This year the University of Canterbury’s annual Ursula Bethell Writer’s Residency is being split between two award-winning Christchurch writers, author Amy Head and playwright Nathan Joe, who will each take up residence for six months.

The Ursula Bethell Residency in Creative Writing, jointly funded by the university’s College of Arts and Creative New Zealand, was established by the University of Canterbury (UC) in 1979 to provide support for New Zealand writers and foster New Zealand writing. The residency allows authors of proven merit in all areas of literary and creative activity an opportunity to work on an approved project within an academic environment.

Since the inception of the Writers Residency four decades ago, UC has been home to dozens of fiction-writers, poets and dramatists, many of whom have made valuable contributions to the development of young writers studying at the university. Since 1979, UC has hosted many renowned writers, including Keri Hulme, Kevin Ireland, David Eggleton, Eleanor Catton, Owen Marshall, Fiona Farrell, Tusiata Avia, and Victor Rodger.

Ursula Bethell Writers in Residence 2020:

Amy Head is a UC alumna whose short story collection, Tough (VUP, 2014), was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors’ Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction. Her novel Rotoroa (VUP 2018) was described by a Stuff reviewer as “an impressive first novel” and “a finely drawn picture of a society on the cusp of change”. She has extensive experience as an editor and publications advisor, and has a Bachelor of Arts from UC and a Master of Arts with Distinction in Creative Writing from Victoria University, Wellington.

Head’s proposed residency project is a collection of short stories set in present-day Christchurch, which will consider shifting identities and competing perspectives, with an emphasis on the ebbs and flows of attraction, loss and renewal.

“I’m grateful to UC for offering me such a valuable opportunity. I’ll be writing linked stories about characters who are living in present-day Christchurch, negotiating their lives and their identities in a disrupted, transforming city.”

She will be joining the English department in the College of Arts for six months from February 2020.

Nathan Joe is a Chinese-Kiwi playwright whose work deals with issues of racial or sexual identity through a postmodern lens. He says he is “incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity of the Ursula Bethell residency, which will allow me the rare privilege of investigating and exploring a particular project over an uninterrupted period of time”.

“Christchurch as a city is going through some exciting changes, but it’s also a city that has been stuck in an elongated period of transition and recovery. A place haunted by its own liminality.”

Joe’s plays have been staged and won awards throughout New Zealand. He has twice won Playmarket’s b425 award and has been shortlisted for the Adam NZ Play Award, which celebrates the best in new writing for the theatre. His work has also been selected for the Asian Ink development programme three times. Joe is also a respected theatre critic and dramaturg, and has been writer in residence of the Dunedin Young Writers Festival.

His proposed UC residency projects include a radical reworking of Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder, which will act as a vehicle to explore the state of arts in contemporary New Zealand, and a series of scenes about physical and psychological ruptures, with themes of homecoming and returning, set in Christchurch.

“Despite being my hometown, I have spent my most formative adult years away. The play I will be working on is an attempt to untangle my fraught history and ongoing relationship with the city’s complicated landscape. Call it a theatrical love letter, warts and all,” Joe says.

“I’m reminded that the return home is one of the most potent and recognisable parts of the hero’s journey. That even in the seemingly banal and everyday actions of the modern man there lies a river of rich narratives waiting to burst through. I want to treat the story of this city with the richness and epicness it deserves.”

He will join UC’s English department for six months from August 2020.

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