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Robert Burns Fellowship

The Robert Burns Fellowship is New Zealand's premier literary residency. It was established in 1958 by a group of anonymous Dunedin citizens to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Burns, and to perpetuate the community's appreciation of the part played by the related Dunedin family of Dr Thomas Burns in the early settlement of Otago. The Fellowship aims to encourage and promote imaginative New Zealand literature and to associate writers with the University.

The annual, 12-month Fellowship provides an office in the English Department and not less than the minimum salary of a full-time university lecturer. It is open to writers of poetry, drama, fiction, biography, autobiography, essays or literary criticism who are normally resident in New Zealand, and who, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, have established by their published work, or otherwise, that their writing would benefit from their holding the Fellowship.

Back in 1968 I was a student in the English Department at Otago. I recall that year’s Burns Fellow walking down the corridor at about this time of year, handing out Easter eggs from his grubby pockets, before he retired to meditate under a tree outside the Museum.

Fresh from Oamaru and utterly daunted by the sophistication of Dunedin, I had no idea that I might someday myself become a Burns Fellow. It was inconceivable. Being at the university was extraordinary enough. Few in my family had been educated beyond the age of 12. My paternal great grandmother could not even write her own name, signing official documents with a shaky cross.

That I am here I know is down to luck: the sheer good fortune of being born in an era where thousands of political decisions combined to give me an education and the opportunity to be myself. A writer. Without those decisions which we bundle together loosely and label ‘socialism’ or ‘feminism’ my life would have been very different.

I have been able to spend my time writing novels and poems, producing plays, going to festivals here and abroad, taking up residencies and living for a time in interesting foreign places. And now I am back here at Otago, where I have been made so very welcome by the English Department. It feels as if I am coming full circle, back to the place where I acquired the education which has been the bedrock of all I have been able to create in my life since. That solid, free education – which my generation to its shame has not decided to make equally freely available to our children.

I am grateful to the English Department, the trustees of the Fellowship and the university for the honour that they have conferred on me. I hope that this year I’ll be able to write something true and strong and worthy of their confidence.
Original post by http://www.otago.ac.nz/otagofellows/burns.html

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