Perkins, Emily

Perkins, Emily



In Brief

Emily Perkins is a writer of contemporary fiction, and the success of her first collection of stories, Not Her Real Name and Other Stories, established her early on as an important writer of her generation. Perkins has written novels, as well as short fiction, and her writing has won and been shortlisted for a number of significant awards and prizes. She was the 2006 Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellow, and she used the fellowship to work on her book, Novel About My Wife, published in 2008. She is an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award winner (2011) and her acclaimed novel The Forrests was released in 2012.


Perkins, Emily (1970– ), won attention when Picador (UK) published her first collection of stories, not her real name and other stories (1996), while she was living in London. It was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Award, won the Best First Book (Fiction) Award and subsequently won the Faber Award in the UK.

Born in Christchurch, she grew up in Auckland and Wellington, worked as a TV actor, and studied acting at the New Zealand Drama School / Te Kura Toi Whakaari and writing at Victoria University. Both are evident in the deft narration and tellingly authentic dialogue of her stories of contemporary weltschmerz. These are mostly sketches in the joyless lives of the young generation of the modern city, conducting relationships with the same sense of anaesthetised necessity with which they work in shops or restaurants. Tama Janowitz’s anodyne New York and Martin Amis’s pleasureless London are discernible in the droll despondency of tone, as are the mannered ellipticalness and emotive reticence of the Manhire, Sport or Wellington School of the 1980s–90s. Chad Taylor and Maria Wickens are the most comparable New Zealand contemporaries, though Perkins’s dismal tales are edged with an adroit downbeat wit and aptitude for episodes that tilt into black-absurdist comedy.



Emily Perkins' first book, Not Her Real Name and Other Stories (VUP and Picador, 1996) won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (UK) and Best First Book of Fiction in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

In 1999, Victoria University Press published The Picnic Virgin, a selection of writing from the most exciting contemporary writers, chosen by Emily Perkins. It offers some surprising perspectives on the New Zealand experience, seen from both home and elsewhere.

Her other novels include, Leave Before You Go (Picador, 1998), The New Girl (Picador, 2001), and Novel About My Wife (Bloomsbury 2008). The New Girl was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 2002, and Novel About My Wife won the Montana Medal for Fiction at the 2009 Montana Book Awards (NZ) and the 2009 Believer Book of the Year (US).

Emily Perkins was the 2006 Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellow.

Emily Perkins was the recipient of one of five Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Awards presented in 2011.

Emily Perkins novel The Forrests (Bloomsbury, 2012) charts family relationships, the nuances of growing up and aging, and the charged sensory thrill of daily life as seen through the eyes of Dorothy Forrest. The Hay Festival stated that 'The Forrests is our tip for this year's Man Booker', while Arifa Akba reviewed it in the Independent, writing: 'Extraordinary ... It is so sensitively rendered that you feel every detail, down to the blades of grass that grazes the children's knees ... It seems, in these pages, as if Perkins has a special gift for capturing a child's inner universe, but the talent extends itself as the novel progresses to the incandescent joys and devastations of teenage love, the compromises of mid-life and the tragedy of old age ... a magnificent novel'.

In 2012, Perkins appeared at the Sydney Writers' Festival and the Hay-on-Wye Festival through the Book Council's International Travel Fund. Later in 2012, she was also a member of New Zealand’s Guest of Honour programme at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Emily Perkins took up a teaching position at Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters in February 2013.

Perkins' latest novel, The Forrests (Bloomsbury 2012), was selected as a Book of the Year in the Daily Telegraph, Observer, and New Statesman, longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2013 and shortlisted for Best Book of Fiction in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Her first play – an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company – opened at Auckland's Maidment Theatre in 2015.

She is the co-writer, along with director Alison Maclean, of The Rehearsal, a feature film adaptation of the novel by Eleanor Catton, which is screening throughout New Zealand and at international film festivals in 2016.

Last updated September 2016.


  • Emily Perkins' bibliography in the Auckland University Library's New Zealand Literature File
  • Emily Perkins' website
  • Emily Perkins shares her notes on the Sydney Writers Festival on the Book Council blog
  • The Forrests book page on the Bloomsbury website
  • Interview with Emily Perkins in the Listener
  • Conversation with Emily Perkins on Radio NZ
  • Five easy questions with Emily Perkins on the Book Council blog
  • Review of The Forrests, the Guardian
  • Twelve questions with Emily Perkins, NZ Herald
  • Emily Perkins takes on A Doll's House, NZ Herald
  • A Doll's House review, Metro magazine
  • Emily Perkins on turning Eleanor's Catton's novel, The Rehersal, into a movie on Stuff

Updated January 2017.