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Barrowman, Rachel
Writer's File

Rachel Barrowman

Wellington - Te Whanganui-a-Tara
Barrowman, Rachel
In brief
Rachel Barrowman is an award-winning historian. Her publications include The Turnbull: a library and its world (1995), and Mason: the life of R.A.K. Mason (2003) which won the biography category of the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. The book also received a wealth of critical praise, and Kim Worthington described it as, ‘a superbly crafted biography.’ Rachel Barrowman has worked as an editor for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, and has been awarded key research fellowships.
  • Primary publisher
    Victoria University Press
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Barrowman, Rachel (1963- ) is an independent historian.

Barrowman is the author of a number of books including A Popular Vision: the Arts and the Left in New Zealand, 1930-1950 (Victoria University Press, 1991), The Turnbull: a Library and Its World (Auckland University Press, 1995) and Victoria University of Wellington, 1899-1999: A History (Victoria University Press, 1999). She is also the author of Mason: The Life of R.A.K. Mason (Victoria University Press, 2003), which received the Montana Award for Biography at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

In a review of Mason: The Life of R.A.K. Mason for the Listener Kevin Ireland writes, ‘Barrowman’s triumph has been not just to explore the mysteries of a life that she describes as following “a pattern of missed opportunities … perhaps wilfully missed”, but to provide us, incidentally, with a stunning account of four decades of New Zealand literary, social and political history.’ In New Zealand Books, Kim Worthington praises the Mason biography: ‘on one hand it’s an outstanding social history providing a wealth of cultural and political detail. And on another it’s a superbly crafted biography, the success of which can be measured by the fact that we close the book feeling that we know and understand – deeply, painfully – this life, this man.’

Rachel Barrowman has worked as an editor for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, and has been awarded the National Library Fellowship and the Stout Research Centre Fellowship. In 2006, she was awarded the largest writing fellowship available in New Zealand, the Creative New Zealand Michael King Writer's Fellowship, valued at $100,000.

Barrowman's Maurice Gee: Life and Work was published in 2015 (Victoria University Press). In an essay in Metro magazine, Sue Orr writes the book is "an astonishing weaving of a prolific writing life with an intensely personal one. We blush at the awkward intimacy of what we’re reading. We blush, too, as it dawns on us that we’re being seduced. Barrowman does here what Gee does so famously in his adult novels: turns her readers into voyeurs, gorging on gossip, unable to look politely away.

"It’s only when a biographer tackles the enormous, painstaking task of assembling the megadata — a lifetime of achievements, failures, thoughts and deeds — that we realise how much or how little we already know about the subject in question. In Gee’s case, it turns out to be the former. Barrowman’s finest achievement is the creation of a compelling narrative out of an already well-documented life."

Maurice Gee: Life and Work was a finalist for the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.