By Hannah Johnson
New Zealand will be the Guest Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2012, made official today in Auckland as FBF Director Juergen Boos signed a contract with the Chief Executive of New Zealand’s Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Lewis Holden.
This will be the fourth time that an English-speaking country has been Guest of Honour at Frankfurt since the program began in 1976: India in 1986 and 2006, and Ireland in 1996.
A press release from the Frankfurt Book Fair offers an historical glimpse at New Zealand and its literary heritage:
New Zealand’s cultural and literary identity is vibrant and colourful. During the 20th century, that identity broke free of British influences and turned increasingly to its Maori traditions. While the first written references to the islands originate from the explorers James Cook and Georg Forster, the oral tradition of the Polynesian tribes dates back much further. It is thought that the first Maoris arrived in Aotearoa, as the country is officially known in the Maori language, around the year 800. In the 19th century, the islands became a British colony and a destination for emigrant settlers. Today, New Zealand is one of the 54 countries of the Commonwealth. Its society is influenced by immigration from Europe, India, Asia, Latin America and Africa. Post-colonial attributes and Polynesian diversity now combine to shape the culture of the country. New Zealand’s vibrant democracy is often also reflected in its culture, which frequently takes up political topics.
It was a hard battle for the Maoris to achieve official recognition, alongside English, for their indigenous language. The poet Hone Tuwhare was the first to write Maori poetry in English. Booker Prize winner Keri Hulme (The Bone People, 1984) and Alan Duff (Once Were Warriors, 1990) both consider themselves closely linked to the Maori movement. Witi Ihimaera is considered the most famous living Maori writer (e.g. Whale Rider, adapted to film in 2002 by Niki Caro). To date, only a few New Zealand authors have been published in Germany, including Alan Duff, Patricia Grace, crime writer Ngaio Marsh, and Anthony McCarten (Ladies’ Night, Superhero). Katherine Mansfield, Michael King and Janet Frame are probably the country’s most famous authors. A film adaptation of Frame’s autobiography, An Angel at my Table, was made in 1990 by Jane Campion.
The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc) has 1,300 members and is very active. Around 2,000 new titles enter the market each year. The Publishers Association of New Zealand includes around 80 New Zealand publishers, which together generate about 550 million euros in annual sales. In 2007, taken as a whole, New Zealand’s cultural sector was worth approximately seven billion euros. New Zealand, after Ireland and India, will be the third english-speaking Guest of Honour of the Frankfurt Book Fair.