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Knox, Elizabeth
Writer's File

Elizabeth Knox

Wellington - Te Whanganui-a-Tara
Knox, Elizabeth
In brief
Elizabeth Knox is an adventurous and imaginative fiction writer who has published several novels for adults and children, as well as autobiographical novellas. Her writing is never static, and moves from historical drama, to science fiction, to memoir. Her novel, The Vintner's Luck, first published in 1998, was a huge success with readers and critics alike, winning a place on the 1999 Orange Prize shortlist. Dreamhunter (2005) and Dreamquake (2007) form a thrilling novel duet, aimed at young adults. Dreamquake won a Michael L Printz Award in 2008 and an American Library Association Best book award in the same year.


Knox, Elizabeth (1959-) is a full-time writer. She was born in Wellington and is a graduate in English of Victoria University. Knox has won several awards and fellowships, including the ICI Young Writers Bursary, a Scholarship in Letters (1993) and the Victoria University writing fellowship (1997). She has also been a co-editor of and a frequent contributor to Sport.

Her first novel, After Z-Hour, was published in 1987. A multi-narrator tale, After Z-Hour tells of six characters' experiences in an old house haunted by the ghost of WWI soldier Mark Thornton.

Her second novel Treasure (1992) is set both in Wellington and in the Christian settlement of White Steppes, North Carolina. Aspects of religion, healing, and romance inform the tale, which went on to make the shortlist for the 1993 New Zealand Book Award for Fiction.

Glamour and the Sea (1996) is also set in Wellington, though in the bygone decade of the 1940s. A mystery novel, Glamour and the Sea traces the involvement of New Zealand women with American men. As is characteristic of Knox's narratives, it is marked by a multiplicity of time-frames, settings and narrators.

Alongside the publication of these three novels, Knox wrote and released a trilogy of novellas. Paremata (1989), Pomare (1994), and Tawa (1998) observe and narrate the defining moments of a girl's childhood and youth, and are loosely based on the author's own experiences growing up near Wellington in the later 1960s.

The Vintner's Luck was first published by Victoria University Press in 1998. Set in Burgundy in the nineteenth century, the novel tells the magical and spellbinding story of Sobran Jodeau, a vintner from the village of Aluze. On a midsummer's night, Sobran's life is forever changed when he is visited by an angel named Xas, a gorgeous creature with wings that smell of snow.

Elizabeth Knox was the 1999 recipient of the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. One of New Zealand's most long-standing and prestigious literary awards, the fellowship is offered annually to enable a New Zealand writer to work in Menton, France.

The Vintner's Luck won the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the 1999 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, where it also received the Readers' Choice and Booksellers' Choice awards. It was also shortlisted for the 1999 Orange Prize, and in 2001 it was awarded the inaugural Tasmania Pacific Region Prize.

Knox's three volumes of autobiographical writing, Paremata, Pomare, and Tawa are now collected in the single work The High Jump: a New Zealand Childhood (2000).

Knox was the recipient of a 2000 Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award, which aims to ensure recipients' talents are celebrated both nationally and internationally. 'Knox's achievement is already considerable with the break-through success of The Vintner's Luck', says Arts Foundation panel member and poet Bill Manhire. 'We believe she is about to become a major international writer.'

About Black Oxen (2001), the Guardian's Sarah May writes: 'The new book by acclaimed New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox is as crowded as you would expect a novel on the question of human destiny to be . . . Complex without being complicated, Black Oxen possesses a pure and whole-hearted intelligence. As in The Vintner's Luck, Knox demonstrates an imagination that is both vast and relentless in its pursuit of the truth. This is a world with four dimensions and six senses. Any leap of faith it might require is more than worth taking.'

The Boston Globe found Black Oxen 'even more lush, dark, and puzzling' than The Vintner's Luck. 'Knox has provocative, disturbing things to say about how we define identity. She is obsessed with consciousness, sensation, memory, and the ways in which families mold, adapt, and define themselves. Her idiosyncratic stylistic impulses, though often irritating, are suave and assured, and she has a dead-on eye for atmospherics and the telling landscape. The poor beasts of Knox's title sometimes have a heavy load to haul in this long, challenging, even exasperating novel, but readers who share their diligence and patience will be startled to find out where the journey takes them and strangely satisfied at its end.'

James Urquhart of the Independent on Sunday ends his long review: 'Knox bothers her readers with tenderness, suspense and glistening webs of meaning, but rewards, in the round, with a superb piece of narrative therapy.'

Billie's Kiss (2002) is set on the remote, divided Scottish island of Kissack and Skilling, one half of which looks historically and geographically towards Catholic Ireland, the other towards the Protestant north and Scandinavia.

Knox was awarded an ONZM for her services to literature in the 2002 New Zealand Queen's Birthday honours list.

Billies Kiss was short listed in the 2002 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

Daylight (2003) was described in Publishers Weekly as 'on a par with the best Anne Rice has to offer.' Daylight is set on the beautiful Mediterranean Coast, yet much of it takes place in a 'world beneath the world' where history meets myth and vampires still roam. Now published in the USA, Daylight has received an enthusiastic review in The Washington Post. Douglas E. Winter, author of the critical biography Clive Barker: The Dark Fantastic, praises Knox for revitalising 'a weary genre'.

'But fantasies, Knox suggests, are mirrors of reality, and do not exist without consequences. Doomed to night and shadow, her vampires offer the ominous prospect that progress is the true monster and remind us that daylight and illumination are very different things. In Daylight, Elizabeth Knox has written a Northanger Abbey for the new century, an entertaining fiction that offers a potent summation and critique of a weary genre. Her style is meticulous and dreamlike, moving with a languor worthy of its nightwalkers. She demands and deserves a careful reading, because there is no doubt: Daylight is not just another vampire novel.' (The Washington Post). The novel was also shortlisted for Best Book in the South Pacific & South East Asian Region of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

Dreamhunter (HarperCollins, 2005) is a fast-paced and dazzlingly imaginative novel, drawing the reader into an extraordinary fictional world in which dreams are as vividly described as the cream cakes in the tea shop, the sand on the beach or the memories of first love. It was nominated in the 2006 shortlist for the
Montana New Zealand Book Awards and won the 2006 Esther Glen Award in recognition of distinguished contribution to New Zealand children's literature.

The judging panel said of Knox, 'Few writers can make the transition from the extravagances of writing for adults to the conciseness necessary when writing for children and young adults, yet Elizabeth Knox has achieved this with Dreamhunter. The plot is brilliantly original and convincing, and the writing is superb.'

Dreamhunter was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2007. The Best Books list is compiled by a committee of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association.

Part Two of the Dreamhunter Duet, Dreamquake, was published in 2007 by Harper Collins. It concludes the duet with a deeply imagined and ingeniously constructed story that is equal parts myth and fairytale. 'Knox not only generates a riveting mystery and a forcefully original myth of place, but raises some challenging questions about power and freedom, artistic licence, the role of the storyteller, and the way that both history and the future are constructed around dreams and fantasies of one sort or another'.

Dreamquake won the Michael L Printz Award in 2008 and an ALA Best book award in the same year.

The follow-up to her award-winning novel The Vintner's Luck was published by Victoria University Press in 2009. The Angel's Cut is an evocative and wildly romantic new novel, set in 1929 boomtown Los Angeles. Into a world of movie lots and speakeasies comes Xas, student flier and wingless angel, determined only to go on living in the air despite the voices that conspire to keep him on the ground.

In 2009, Knox received the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Collected Work, for The Invisible Road.

She was interviewed by David Larsen in the anthology, Words Chosen Carefully, edited by Siobhan Harvey (Cape Catley Ltd, 2010).

In 2013, Knox published Mortal Fire (Gecko Press), a young adults novel, which was a finalist in the LA Times Book Awards and won the Best Young Adult Fiction award at the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Her novel, Wake, was published by Victoria University Press in 2013. The Guardian said of the book: "It’s what follows that lifts the novel from the well-worn furrow ploughed by a thousand lesser writers. Knox keeps the monster off stage and examines the psychological consequences of its depredations on the survivors, subverting the norms of the horror genre and thus making the ambiguous finale all the more startling. Wake reads like a collaboration between Dean Koontz and John Wyndham, rewritten by Margaret Atwood."

Elizabeth Knox was the 2014 recipient of the Michael King Writer's Fellowship. The $100,000 fellowship was awarded to Knox to assist her in writing a memoir based on her experiences of illness and violent death in her family.

In 2019 The Absolute Book (Victoria University Press) was published to critical acclaim, and international sales spiked after writer Dan Kois published an article on the US website Slate describing the work as "majestic" and "brain-bending."

In a review for Spinoff, Maria MacMillan writes: "For me, the most amazing moments in this book are when the story on the page becomes transparent and I am Taken, not just by the most obvious story, the one floating on the surface of the page, but by the layers of story beneath it. Knox always works in multiple ways at once. Like the spells in the book she can control your attention. Always telling you something urgent while making you look in the other direction."

In October 2019, Knox received a Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement, for fiction.

Knox was promoted to Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to literature, in the 2020 Queen's Birthday Honours.