Burns fellowship a boon and a boost for Dunedin

Dunedin recently hosted three main days of celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the University of Otago’s Robert Burns Fellowship. Reporter JohnGibb spoke to one  of the reunion organisers, Associate Prof Jacob Edmond, of the university’s department of English and linguistics, about what Dunedin had gained from the fellows and the fellowship.

Jacob Edmond
Jacob Edmond
The University of Otago’s Burns Fellows have brought "huge mana" to the university  and Dunedin,  Associate Prof Jacob Edmond says.

Prof Edmond, of the university’s department of English and linguistics, said the English department and the university had "gained enormously" from the fellowship.

Novelist Ian Cross was the first Burns Fellow in 1959 and Rhian Gallagher is this year’s fellow.

Throughout the three-day reunion, Prof Edmond had heard that Burns Fellows had "inspired many students to go on to careers in literature and the creative arts".

"They also gave staff new perspectives of New Zealand literature and helped foster and enhance our strengths in this area. More recently, they have contributed greatly to our burgeoning programmes in creative writing.

"The fellows have also brought huge mana to the department, the university, and the city, associating the name of our institution and city with nationally and internationally renowned writers such as Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare, James K. Baxter, Catherine Chidgey, and Victor Rodger, among many others.

"The fellowship has encouraged many great writers, such as Tuwhare, to settle permanently in the deep South.

"The fellowship undoubtedly contributed greatly to Dunedin becoming New Zealand’s one and only Unesco City of Literature.

"I sincerely hope that the university, the city, and private benefactors, like those who first established the fellowship, will seize the opportunity to build on the wonderful foundation of the Burns fellowship and help make Dunedin, over the coming years, a truly world-leading city for literature and arts."

Dunedin clearly had that potential, he said.

"We just need those with the purse strings to grasp the opportunity," he said.

The Friday lunchtime reading in the Link was an  "unprecedented opportunity to hear so many leading figures in New Zealand letters from several generations" read their work. For this event the department partnered with Continuing Education and Otago University. The workshops for young writers, some in partnership with the New Zealand Young Writers Festival, also reflected an emphasis on the fellowship "as a way to nurture young talent". The celebrations created chances for "our creative writing students", other young people and members of the public to learn from some of the country’s leading writers. The Tribute to Absent Fellows, at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, was "another clear highlight: funny, beautiful, moving, sad, and heart-warming all at once". The department had partnered with the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival for this event, who  did a "brilliant job" in curating it.

"I was deeply moved to hear Warren Dibble’s sons, Sheldon and Victor, read from their father’s work, to watch as Warren’s granddaughter, Rachel, responded with a waiata.

"It was wonderful also to see Warren’s daughter, Rose, and great-grandchildren  also in attendance. Rob Tuwhare, who knew the Dibble boys from his time as a child in Dunedin, read his father’s poem Friend beautifully, before Jeanette Wikaira gave a beautiful reading of a Maori translation of Tuwhare’s work," he said.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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