Jansen, Adrienne

Jansen, Adrienne



In Brief

Adrienne Jansen is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She has worked extensively with immigrants to New Zealand, and many of her books reflect this experience. These include The Crescent Moon: The Asian Face of Islam in New Zealand (2009), a collaboration with photographer Ans Westra, and most recently Migrant Journeys: New Zealand Taxi Drivers Tell Their Stories (2016). She has written five novels: Spirit Writing (1999), Floating the Fish on Bamboo (2001), The Score (2013), A Line of Sight (2015), and A Change of Key (2018). In 2018, Jansen published her fourth collection of poetry ,and she has also written short stories for radio, and both fiction and non-fiction for children. In 1993 she founded the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, and has led many creative writing workshops. She also worked as a writer at Te Papa for 11 years.


Jansen, Adrienne (1947 - ) writes fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children, and poetry. For many years she taught ESOL and was involved in refugee resettlement and immigration issues, and this long interest in cross-cultural experience is reflected in her writing.

Her first books were small practical publications designed to meet particular needs. Having a Baby in New Zealand (1985) was published in Samoan, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Khmer as well as English. She co-authored a second book with a practical focus, Neighbourhood Groups (1986).

Borany's Story (1991) is an account of the life of Borany Kanal, a Cambodian immigrant and co-author of the book. It was originally a series for radio broadcast by Radio New Zealand in 1989, then was published by Learning Media. It is a simply-written and moving first person account of a woman’s escape from the Khmer Rouge, and eventual resettling in New Zealand. The book was shortlisted for the New Zealand Library Association Non Fiction Award, and is still widely used in schools.

Ten immigrant women tell their stories to Adrienne Jansen in I Have in My Arms Both Ways (1990). The title comes from one of the women, immigrant Valeti Finau: 'I have in my arms both ways. I can see my Tokelau way, it's good. I can see the palagi way, it's good. I don’t want to put one down and lift the other up... I can carry them both.' One of the few accounts of immigrant women's experiences in New Zealand, the book was republished in 2015.

Her first novel, Spirit Writing (HarperCollins), is the story of a young woman who is drawn into what is for her a foreign world of Lao refugees and political activism, and discovers the costs of misunderstandings and misplaced idealism. 'Captivating, powerful and beautifully written,' writes Michael Larsen in The Evening Post, while Beryl Fletcher writes ‘it’s great to read a New Zealand novel that explores the fraught relationships that can occur between refugees and locals’ (Waikato Times).

Jansen’s second novel, Floating the Fish on Bamboo (HarperCollins, 2001), is described by Sue McRae in the Evening Post as ‘a page-turner with real class, falling squarely between the arthouse and the blockbuster’, and is also a story set in a multicultural community.

The Score (2013) is the story of a grand piano that falls off a crane while it is being hoisted into a council flat. A group of tenants decide to help Stefan, illegal migrant and piano technician, to rebuild it. It was one of reviewer Catherine Robertson's most memorable books for 2013. It is published by Escalator Press, an imprint set up by the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme.

In 2013 Jansen teamed up with Moroccan chef Abdel El Adroui and photographer Kate Whitley to produce Abdel's Favourites, a Moroccan cookbook based on recipes from the Marrakech Cafe, Wellington. The next year, she edited The Curioseum: Collected Stories of the Odd and Marvellous, an anthology of stories for children based on strange objects in the Te Papa collections – a project made possible by her role as a writer at the museum. The project was a collaboration between the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme and Te Papa Press, and was published by Te Papa Press.

A Line of Sight (2015, Escalator Press) is a novel which explores the devastating effect an accidental shooting has on both the individuals involved and the communities where they live.

A Change of Key (2018) is a sequel to The Score. Marko, Bulgarian violinist living in exile, is fighting exposure of an earlier disastrous episode in his life.

Jansen has also had short stories broadcast on Radio New Zealand, including ‘War’, highly commended in the Commonwealth Short Story competition in 2002. She has twice been short-listed for the BNZ Literary Awards.

In 2009, Jansen and photographer Ans Westra produced The Crescent Moon: The Asian Face of Islam in New Zealand, a publication for the Asia New Zealand Foundation, intended to present a more accurate ‘snapshot’ of this largest group of Muslims in New Zealand, and to correct some stereotypes and media misrepresentation. The Crescent Moon was also a photographic exhibition that toured New Zealand and parts of Asia, and in 2015 Jansen wrote the text for a companion exhibition in Penang, Malaysia.

In 2015 Bridget Williams Books published Migrant Journeys: New Zealand Taxi Drivers Tell Their Stories. Jansen and co-author Liz Grant interviewed migrant taxi drivers around the country to produce a series of 14 stories of their experiences both in their first country and in New Zealand.

Adrienne Jansen was one of four poets in the collection How Things Are (1996), where her work appeared with that of Meg Campbell, Harry Ricketts, and J.C. Sturm. She has since published three other collections of poetry. Keel and Drift (2016) was named one of the New Zealand Herald's best books for 2016. All of Us, poems by Jansen and Carina Gallegos on the themes of migration and refugees (2018) is a companion book to More of Us, poems by migrants and former refugees, edited by Jansen and others (2019).

She has also had poems in a number of publications and in several anthologies.

Jansen has had a long involvement in teaching creative writing. In 1990, she held a Churchill fellowship to look at access to education for disadvantaged groups in Canada and the UK. She also looked at creative writing programmes. In 1993 Adrienne Jansen founded the Whitireia Polytechnic Creative Writing Programme, was its coordinator until 1999, and continues to teach the programme. She has written several of its online courses. For several years Jansen worked with Huia Publishers in a series of workshops for Māori writers, and with Creative New Zealand in a series of workshops for Pacific Islands writers. She has also run writing workshops in Vanuatu and Indonesia.

Adrienne Jansen lives in Titahi Bay, Porirua.

(Last updated by author, 15 Dec 2018)


Updated January 2017.