Ihimaera became the first Maori novelist with the publication of »Tangi« (1973). His subsequent work immediately received recognition for its lyrical representations of the tribal and rural experiences of Maori people in New Zealand. The ways in which his writing integrated Maori life, language, traditions and mythology into the predominantly Pakeha (settler) narrative text, are illustrated most notably in »The Matriarch« (1986) and »The Whale Rider« (1987), made into the internationally acclaimed film in 2002. From 1990, Ihimaera’s work widened and deepened nationally and internationally, becoming less lyrical and more polemic. He became highly regarded as a leading exponent of the international indigenous narrative, his work seen as reflecting worldwide indigenous concerns. These included identity and gender politics, as in his novel »Nights in the Gardens of Spain« (1995), which was made into his second feature film, »Kawa« (2011); the consequences of cultural and economic deprivation, as in his novel »The Dream Swimmer« (1997); and contemporary race politics, as in his play »Woman Far Walking« ( 2000). Particular critical attention has focussed on the ways in which his work contests the European-centric forms and concerns of the Western European narrative tradition, most recently in his epic novels »The Trowenna Sea« (2009) and »The Parihaka Woman« (2011) which engage in rewriting and recreating the Maori-settler relationship. A third feature film based on his novella »Medicine Woman« (2007) will be released internationally in 2013. Best known as a novelist, Ihimaera has also contributed publicly to the development of Maori and bicultural objectives. He was one of the first Maori career diplomats appointed to the New Zealand diplomatic service and, for some time, the only Maori professor of English in New Zealand. He established the Maori arts council in 1976 and has since frequently represented Maori interests on government and other boards promoting New Zealand education, culture, arts and film.
His most recent awards have included an inaugural Star of Oceania Award, University of Hawaii, 2009; a laureate award from the New Zealand Arts Foundation, 2009, the Toi Maori Maui Tiketike Award 2010 – the highest available for a Maori artist – and a Premio Ostana International Award for services to indigenous literature, Italy. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.
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