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Waaka, Helen
Writer's File

Helen Waaka

Hawke's Bay - Te Matau-a-Māui
Waaka, Helen
In brief

Helen Margaret Waaka (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Torehina) is an author located in Central Hawkes Bay. Her first book,Waitapu, a collection of short stories, was published by Escalator Press in 2015. Helen has a Bachelor of Nursing from Eastern Institute of Technology (2001) and a Post Graduate Certificate in Women’s Health from Otago University (2007). In 2011 she completed a Graduate Diploma in Creative writing at Whitireia Community Polytech and in the same year won the Pikihuia Award for Best Short Story in English. She worked for several years co-ordinating a Womens Health outreach clinic at Takapau in Central Hawkes Bay and currently works as an outpatient nurse in Waipukurau.

  • Primary publisher
    Escalator Press
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  • Publicity enquiries

Helen says that she didn’t become serious about writing until her early fifties. ‘I enrolled in a few short courses in creative writing in Hawkes Bay and Tāmaki Makaurau and soon became hooked. I realised then I’d been making up stories in my head for years and it was writing that accessed those stories and brought them to life.’

Waitapu, a composite novel, explores the lives of small town people over a forty year time span. Helen was awarded a New Zealand Society of Authors mentorship while writing Waitapu in 2013. At Helen's Wellington launch, Renée said ‘I feel like someone has finally got what small towns in Aotearoa are about’ and at the 2016 Going West Books and Writers festival Paula Green compared the structure of the book to ‘an exquisitely crafted crochet blanket.’ ‘Each story hooks a character from the story before, the characters, hooked and rehooked in vital interconnections.’

Albert Wendt included Waitapu in his 2015 Booknotes Unbound list of favourite books, describing the stories as unpretentious, sensitive and accessible. ‘Waitapu will live with me for a long time.’

Waitapu was a finalist in the Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Book awards in October 2016. Pikihuia judge Reina Whaitiri said the stories were ‘real, authentic, close to the bone. These stories make for great reading — I love them.’

Helen also has several short stories included in Huia publishers short story collections Huia Short Stories 9,10, 11 and Ngā Hau e Wha- Stories on the Four Winds. She was awarded a Michael King Emerging Māori writer's residency in 2018.

September 2023
September 2023