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Hereaka, Whiti
Author photo: Greg Bal
Writer's File

Whiti Hereaka

Wellington - Te Whanganui-a-Tara
Hereaka, Whiti
Author photo: Greg Bal
In brief
Whiti Hereaka is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and a barrister and solicitor. Hereaka has written numerous plays for stage and radio and was the recipient of the prestigious Bruce Mason Award for emerging playwrights in 2012. Her first novel, The Graphologist’s Apprentice (2007) was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Book Prize for Fiction in the Asia/Pacific region, and her second novel Bugs was published in 2013. In 2022, Hereaka's novel Kurangaituku won the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
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Hereaka, Whiti (1978 – ) is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter of Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa descent. She is also a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand and currently works for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Hereaka completed a Masters in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting) at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2002. A founding member of the theatre collective Writer’s Block, Hereaka is widely recognised as an important new voice in New Zealand theatre.

Hereaka has written and produced numerous plays for stage and radio. These include Fallow (Tawata Productions, 2005), Collective Agreement (Young and Hungry, 2005), I Ain’t Nothing But/A Glimmer in the Dark She Said (Open Book Productions for STAB 2006), Te Kaupoi (Bush Collective, 2010), For Johnny (Young and Hungry, 2011) and Rewena (Centrepoint Theatre, 2013).

She has twice been awarded the Adam Play Award for Best New Play by a Māori Playwright, winning with Te Kaupoi in 2010, and again with Rona and Rabbit on the Moon in 2011. In 2012, Hereaka received the Bruce Mason Award, a prize that annually recognises emerging New Zealand playwrights. Murray Lynch, director of Playmarket, described Hereaka’s plays as 'poetic, poignant, and wildly imaginative'. Her short film Unclaimed Luggage was awarded Best Short Film Screenplay award in the 2005 E Tuhi! Get Writing Awards and was produced by Kiwa Media in 2008.

In 2007 Hereaka was Writer in Residence at the Randell Cottage in Wellington, where she worked on her first novel, The Graphologist’s Apprentice. The book was published by Huia Publishers in 2010 and shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Book Prize in the Asia/Pacific Region. Reviewer Lawrence Jones called it 'immensely readable, with a vivid and economical language and a fine control of structure.'

In 2012, Whiti Hereaka held residencies at the Michael King Writers’ Centre and at the Te Papa Tupu Writers Programme in Wellington. She was part of the 2013 International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa.

During the 2012 Michael King Writers Centre Residency she worked on the play, Rewena, which debuted at Centrepoint Theatre, Palmerston North the following year. Hereaka wrote ‘I’m proud of my play Rewena, which poses tough questions about the role of motherhood in women’s lives and what it means to be ‘childfree’ or ‘childless’.’

In 2012, Hereaka was the recipient of the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award. Rewena was published in the anthology Here/Now (Playmarket) in 2015.

Her second novel, Bugs, for young adult readers, was published by Huia in 2013. Bugs is set in the author’s hometown and the characters attended the same high school that she went to. Hereaka commented, ‘[w]hat’s surprised me is that a story specifically about a Māori teenager from Taupo resonates with teenagers from the United States and international readers.’

Bugs won the Honour Award, Young Adult Fiction, New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, 2014, and the Storylines Notable Book Award, Senior Fiction, 2014.

Her third novel, Legacy, won the award for Best Young Adult Fiction at the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

In 2022, Hereaka's novel Kurangaituku (Huia Publishers) won the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Kurangaitukuturns the legend of Hatupatu and the fearsome birdwoman Kurangaituku on its head, telling the story through the lens of the so-called monster, and taking us on the journey of her extraordinary life.

The fiction category’s convenor of judges, Rob Kidd, described Kurangaituku as “poetic, intense, clever and sexy as hell”.

“It’s an epic poem of a novel, resonant of Māori oral traditions, that gives a voice, form and a name to the bird-woman from the Māori myth,” he said.

“The ogress Kurangaituku tells us not only her side of the story but everything she knows about Te Ao Māori.”