Simpson, Peter

Simpson, Peter



In Brief

Peter Simpson is a writer, editor, critic, curator and former academic. His contribution to New Zealand literature is vast, and he has written, and edited, a wide range of books, anthologies, journals and other works of non-fiction. He has worked as the director and managing editor of Holloway Press and has contributed to several literary dictionaries. He has written reviews, articles and catalogue essays on significant New Zealand artists and writers, and he is well known as a visual arts curator. Simpson was awarded the 2012 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers Fellowship. Most recently, he received the 2017 Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in honour of his non-fiction.

Image credit: Marti Friedlander

Look Back Harder cover
Answering Hark
Nine New Zealand Novellas
The Titirangi years
Ronald Hugh Morrieson
Seven New Zealand Novellas
Peter Peryer photographer


Simpson, Peter (1942- ) is a writer, editor, curator, and former academic.

Peter Simpson was born in Takaka. He attended Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, where he earned an MA, Hons. He went on to study at the University of Toronto where he completed his PhD in 1976 (awarded A.S.P. Woodhouse Prize for best thesis, 1976). Professionally, Simpson taught from 1964-2008 at Massey University, University of Toronto, Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) and the University of Auckland, where he was head of English, 2005-08. He was the MP for Lyttelton from 1987-1990. From 1996-1998 he directed the post-graduate New Zealand Studies programme at the University of Auckland. He was the co-founder (with Alan Loney), director and managing editor of Holloway Press, 1994-2013.

Well known as an editor, Simpson was the editor of Span 1981-86. Among the books he has edited are The Given Condition: Essays in Post-colonial Literatures (SPACLALS, 1985), Pallet on the Floor and two stories by Ronald Hugh Morrieson (Penguin, 1983), Look Back Harder: Critical Writings 1935-1984 by Allen Curnow (Auckland University Press, 1987), Selected Poems by Kendrick Smithyman (AUP, 1989), Slow Passes 1978-88 by Alan Brunton (AUP, 1991), Tomarata by Kendrick Smithyman (Holloway Press, 1996), Fantastica: Thirteen Drawings by Leo Bensemann (Holloway Press, 1997), Rita: Seven Poems by Colin McCahon (Holloway Press/The Fernbank Studio, 2001), Last Poems by Kendrick Smithyman (Holloway Press, 2002), Seven New Zealand Novellas (Reed, 2003) which was a finalist for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2004, Leo Bensemann: Engravings on Wood (Holloway Press, 2004), Nine New Zealand Novellas (Reed, 2005), Collected Poems by Charles Spear (Holloway, 2007), Leo Bensemann: Dark Arts: Notes on Printing, Painting and Publishing (Holloway, 2011), Charles Brasch: Journals 1945-57 (Otago University Press, 2017), Charles Brasch: Journals 1958-73 (OUP, forthcoming 2018). He also (with Margaret Edgcumbe) edited an online edition of Kendrick Smithyman’s Collected Poems.

Simpson’s sole authored books are: Ronald Hugh Morrieson (Oxford University Press, 1982), Candles in a Dark Room: James K. Baxter and Colin McCahon (Auckland Art Gallery, 1996), Answering Hark: McCahon/Caselberg: Painter/Poet (Potton Publishing, 2001) Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years 1953-59 (Auckland University Press 2007), (with Peter Peryer) Peter Peryer: Photographer (AUP, 2008, short-listed for Montana Book Awards, 2009), Patron and Painter: Charles Brasch and Colin McCahon (Hocken lecture, 2009; Hocken Collections, 2010), Fantastica: The World of Leo Bensemann (AUP, 2011), Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-53 (AUP, 2016, short-listed for Ockham Book Awards, 2017), and Leo Bensemann & Friends: Portraiture and The Group (NZ Portrait Gallery, 2016).

He has contributed to the Oxford History of New Zealand (OUP, 2nd ed., 1992), the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (AUP, 5 volumes, 1990 - 2000) and extensively to The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature (OUP, 1998) as well as about 25 other books.

A prolific writer, his articles and reviews have appeared in Landfall, Islands, Journal of New Zealand Literature, University of Toronto Quarterly, Span, Victorian Poetry, Australian Book Review, New Zealand Books, Quote Unquote, New Zealand Listener, Untold, Ariel (Canada), World Literature Written in English, Metro, Comment, Art News, Visit, Gallery, bulletin, Australasian Art Monthly, and Art New Zealand. He has also written for The Press, The Evening Post, The Dominion, The Sunday Star-Times, and The New Zealand Herald.

Peter Simpson is also a well known curator. In 1996 he curated the exhibition 'Candles in a Dark Room: James K. Baxter and Colin McCahon' for the Auckland Art Gallery and wrote the catalogue essay. In 1999 he curated the exhibition 'Answering Hark' for the Hocken Library, University of Otago, which toured to ten venues throughout New Zealand, 1999-2002. In 2000 he curated 'Rita Angus & Leo Bensemann: The Cambridge Terrace Years' for the Hocken Library; this exhibition was also shown at the Hawke’s Bay Museum of Art and History; Canterbury Museum, the City Gallery, Wellington; the Auckland Art Gallery, the Suter Gallery, Nelson and the Millennium Gallery, Blenheim, 2000-2002. In 2007 he curated 'Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years 1953-59' at Lopdell House Gallery. In 2011 he curated (with Noel Waite) 'Leo Bensemann: A Fantastic Art Venture' (Christchurch Art Gallery, season truncated because of Christchurch earthquake); in 2016-17 he curated 'Leo Bensemann & Friends: Portraiture and The Group' (New Zealand Portrait Gallery, Wellington, and Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland).

Simpson has written catalogue essays for numerous artists including John Edgar, John Pule, Glenda Randerson, Allen Curnow, Colin McCahon, Don Peebles, Rita Angus and Leo Bensemann.

Simpson was awarded the 2012 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writer’s Fellowship. During this Fellowship, Simpson wrote Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-1953, which then went on to be shortlisted for the illustrated non-fiction category of the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Most recently, Simpson was honoured for his work as a literary historian and fine arts writer with the 2017 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement, alongside Witi Ihimaera for fiction and Paula Green for poetry. Creative NZ reported that the selection panel for the award said “Peter’s many books and other writing attest to his ability – both as a literary historian and as a writer on the fine arts – and that he has contributed significantly to the nation's literary culture over many years.”

Updated October 2017.