Leibrich, Julie

Leibrich, Julie


Primary publisher
Otago University Press
Rights enquiries
Rachel Scott, Otago University Press, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand; email: rachel.scott@otago.ac.nz; phone: +64 3 479 4194
Publicity enquiries
as above.

In Brief

Julie Leibrich is a poet, children’s writer, and author of non-fiction works on spirituality, mental health and justice. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and her first book of poems, The Paper Road (Steele Roberts), was published in 1998. She has given invited talks in several countries and has been awarded several grants and prizes, including the Todd New Writer's Bursary, the Joy Cowley Award and the Legal Research Foundation Special Book Award. A research psychologist by training, Leibrich was one of New Zealand's first Mental Health Commissioners.


Leibrich, Julie (1947–) is a poet, children’s writer, and author of non-fiction works on spirituality, mental health and justice.

Born in Manchester, Leibrich earned an MA Hons in English Language and Literature at Edinburgh University. In 1972, Leibrich moved first to Bermuda, then to the far north of Canada. She settled in New Zealand in 1974. In 1976, Leibrich completed a BA Hons in Psychology, and in 1982 a PhD at Victoria University of Wellington. In 1993 she returned to Victoria University to study Creative Writing. She was awarded Creative New Zealand's Todd Writers Bursary in 1995.

Julie Leibrich’s first book of poems was The Paper Road (Steele Roberts, 1998, reissued 2001). In the Otago Daily Times Hamesh Wyatt writes 'Leibrich’s gnarly weave of ideas, allusions and emotions confirm her status as a poet.' Marie Hamilton writes in the Sunday Star Times 'she flings the door open and ushers you in warm and humane her poetry is enjoyable – light, quirky or thoughtful and compassionate.' Her second collection of poems is Land Below the Waves (Steele Roberts, 2004). In 2009, she published her third collection of poetry, Shadow Friend (Rosetta Press). Leibrich, who is also a photographer and artist, illustrated this collection with black-and-white silhouettes on watercolour backgrounds, first seen at her 2007 exhibition Seacoast at Paradise - a Beach Diary. Her latest poetry collection is A Little Book of Sonnets (Steele Roberts, 2013), which is illustrated by her photographs.

Leibrich’s poetry has been widely published and anthologised. Her poems have appeared in Poetry New Zealand, Landfall, Sport, Metro, Printout, Quote UnQuote, New Zealand Books, Spin, Envoi, The North, Dalhousie Review, LiNQ and Kalimat.

Her work has appeared in more than 30 anthologies, including The Earth’s Deep Breathing (2007), Shards of Silver (2006), The First Wellington International Poetry Festival Anthology (2003), Tiger Words (2002), Jewels in the Water: Contemporary New Zealand Poetry for Young Readers (2000), Doors: A Collection of New Zealand Poetry (2000), Mutes and Earthquakes (1997), Below the Surface (1995) and Kapiti Poems 7 (1993).

Leibrich’s first children’s book, Once in a Blue Moon (1995), illustrated by Jacquelyn E Lane, was described by Kevin Ball in the Wairarapa Time-Age as 'A mystical and beautiful story – a standout book for children.' Her children’s book The Ossossossorus (1999) has been praised in Reading Time: 'What a name to conjour with! What a text to roll round the mouth and savour – rhythm, onomatopoeia, alliteration, fantasy and logic.'

Her third children’s book, The Biggest Number in the Universe, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, (Scholastic, 2004), won the first Joy Cowley Award, and was followed by a sequel Nesta and the Missing Zero (Scholastic, 2006). The Biggest Number in the Universe was also listed as a 2005 Storylines Notable Picture Book.

Her works of non-fiction have received acclaim both in New Zealand and overseas. Straight To The Point: Angles on Giving Up Crime (Otago University Press, 1993) was awarded a special prize by the New Zealand Law Society. In his review in a leading law journal, Criminal Law Forum, Professor Peter J. Wilson said it was 'one of the most insightful, informative and compassionate books on crime ... I cannot begin to illustrate the riches of this book, its vividness and compassion and style, even its sharp wit. Straight to the Point has a complex structure and yet this is something visible and dramatic about it...[it] should be prescribed reading for every social researcher.'

A Gift of Stories: Discovering How To Deal With Mental Illness (Otago University Press & Mental Health Commission, 1999) has been recognised as a seminal work in the mental health recovery movement, described by Kay Sheldon in the UK's Open Mind as 'a tour de force in the battle against prejudice and discrimination'. In Psychiatric Bulletin, British expert Dr Glenn Roberts chose it as 'the book which has most influenced me in my career as a psychiatrist'. In his book Spirituality and Mental Health: Breakthrough, Professor Phil Barker of the University of Dundee said 'The writings of people like Julie Leibrich in New Zealand shift our focus beyond the internal functioning alluded to in most bureaucratic definitions of mental health, to an appreciation of the almost ineffable, emergent story of the person's life. Leibrich's experience may well be signalling an important "change of heart" in the whole field of spirituality and mental health.'

Leibrich's latest book is Sanctuary: The Discovery of Wonder (Otago University Press, 2015).

"I am in awe of and intrigued by Leibrich’s wide-ranging exploration of sanctuary. Leibrich has taken me on a journey of thoughtful and engaging wonder. By interweaving her own story and journey of discovery with that of many others: family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, professionals, mystics, historians and clerics, she turns a kaleidoscope slowly and beautifully to examine sanctuary in a thought-provoking way.

This book, as Leibrich says, ‘Harvests the experience of my life’ (p88) as she reflects back over her life in her ‘autumn’ years. She turns the kaleidoscope a mere fraction at a time creating space for the reader to consider the concept of sanctuary. Each gentle turn moves the patterns of colours such that a new mosaic is experienced by the reader.Interspersed with stunning photography at the beginning of each section, the reader’s senses are touched in every way.

For professional or amateur, scientist or artist, this book contains an array of understanding, encompassing body, mind and spirit. It is grounded in everyday human experiences but also uncompromisingly explores the profound and abstract issues of spirituality, connectedness and meaning." - Liz Bryson, for Royal College of Psychiatrists England, 2015.

"In a society in which depression and stress are so widespread, this book offers a deep and authentic exploration of the need for sanctuary, what comprises sanctuary, and how to safeguard it and treasure it. It is a wise and insightful contemplation in which the author shares her own life experience as a poet, writer, former research psychologist and one of New Zealand’s first Mental Health Commissioners. Julie Leibrich also speaks frankly of her own journey through mental illness and her search for wholeness, wellness and meaning.
Theological voices from the world’s great faith traditions and writings from literature and philosophy are woven together with the thoughts of family, friends and acquaintances to help us grasp the dimensions of this idea of sanctuary; different for each person but ultimately a sense of “a coming home”, “a place to go and a place from which to emerge”, a place within.

Leibrich’s deep consciousness of seasons, hemispheres, tides, light and darkness, and the power they exert over our thinking and her appreciation of the part poetry, art, music, dance, and even mathematics can play in creating sanctuary, ensure that this is no lightweight, feel-good work.

This book is a wonderful companion for anyone who hungers, dreams, seeks, doubts or becomes exhausted."
- Mary Thorne, for Motu Interislands Magazine, 2015

In addition to her writing, Leibrich has worked as a research psychologist and as a social scientist in the departments of Justice and Health. In 1996 she was appointed as one of the first Mental Health Commissioners for New Zealand. She has given many invited talks, in New Zealand and overseas, on mental health and spiritual growth.


Updated January 2017.