In 2017 the Michael King Writers Centre (MKWC) sent out a survey to writers asking what sort of residency length would best suit them and what were the issues that prevented them from applying for a residency. The overall response was that as much as writers would like a long residency (three to six months), work and family were the predominant issues holding them back from applying.
In 2018 the Centre restructured their programme, moving from four main residencies per year to 15 in 2018. This year sees 21 opportunities – four of which will be University of Auckland residencies, aligned to semesters – offered to a diverse mix of writers: historians, memoirists, essay writers, fiction writers, poets and dramatists.
Residencies range from two to eight weeks, and there are places for both established and emerging writers. Four of these are specifically for Pasifika and Maori writers. Writer feedback has overwhelmingly noted the importance of getting away from everyday life.
“So far it has been very well received,” comments Executive Director Jan McEwen about the new programme, “and writers are amazed at how much work they are producing even in a two week residency.They find the ambience of the house, the photos displayed in the hallway of our alumni, the writers’ studio cottage in the garden, the view of the garden and harbour, and the isolation of the house on the maunga, all play a part in making it an inspiring and productive residency.”
Based in the historic Signalman’s House on the slopes of Takarunga Mt Victoria in Devonport, Auckland, the residency opened in 2005 and has since offered residencies to around 56 New Zealand writers, not including the 2019 intake.
Writers selected for the residencies receive free accommodation at the MKWC, use of the writers’ studio at the centre and receive a stipend. Thanks to support from Creative New Zealand and the University of Auckland, stipends ranging from $1200 to $6000 are paid for each residency.
Additionally, for the past six years, the MKWC Young Writers Programme has provided opportunities for senior high school students to be involved in writing workshops with novelists, journalists, lyricists, bloggers, short story writers, poets, editors and comic book artists.
There is also a room for visiting writers that continues to be very busy and already has a 75 per cent booked occupancy for the rest of the year. “Writers share the lounge and kitchen and most writers seem to enjoy having a kindred spirit in the house during their breaks from writing,” says McEwen. These visitors are predominantly New Zealand writers wishing to get away from their home to work or to finish a specific project, but the Centre also takes international bookings.
Residency applications open around August/September of each year, and are chosen by a selection committee made up of MKWC trustees. In 2019, the list of successful writers includes Makereta Brown, Philippa Werry, Murray Edmond, Fiona Samuels, Steve Toussaint and Mariana Isara. The recipients of the Māori writers’ residencies are Colleen Maria Lenihan and Jade Kake.
Rachel O’Neill was the first 2019 recipient, in early January, sharing the house with Lucie Rivet, a French writer living in Governors Bay who is co-writing a book with her sister who is based in France.