Dunedin writer among uni's arts fellows

Dr Emily Duncan has been named as the next University of Otago Robert Burns Fellow. PHOTO: GREGOR...
Dr Emily Duncan has been named as the next University of Otago Robert Burns Fellow. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The University of Otago's five arts fellows in literature, art, dance, and music have been selected for next year, and the prestigious Robert Burns Fellowship has gone to an award-winning local playwright.

The announcements were made by vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne at a university council meeting yesterday afternoon.

Playwright Emily Duncan, who works from her home in Northeast Valley, was named Robert Burns Fellow, joining a list of authors including Janet Frame, Maurice Gee and James K. Baxter.

The news "hasn't quite sunk in", Dr Duncan said.

"It's quite amazing to have my name added to that list of others, many of whom I grew up reading or studying," she said.

The award, celebrating its 60th birthday this year, is the oldest literary art award in New Zealand.

Other recipients of 2019 arts fellowships include Auckland artist Imogen Taylor, the new Frances Hodgkins Fellow, and performer and choreographer Antonio Ssebuuma, who will become Caroline Plummer Fellow in Community Dance.

Mr Ssebuuma has taught dance in Uganda, Europe and New Zealand.

Fifi Colston has been named the new College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence, and composer and musician Dylan Lardelli, the current Mozart Fellow, has received the fellowship again in 2019.

Dr Duncan said she was particularly inspired by former Burns Fellow playwright Renee Taylor, who writes under the name Renee.

Dr Duncan studied Renee's play Wednesday to Come while in high school and it was the first time she had seen "women's work and lives" shown on stage.

Since writing her first play, Lips, as a student at Victoria University of Wellington nearly 20 years ago, Dr Duncan has produced an extensive portfolio of published work, including three-part thriller podcast Dark Dunedin: Heaven Looks On.

She was commissioned through the Fortune Theatre to write a play on the lives of New Zealand's first female medical graduate Dr Emily Siedeberg and the country's first female law graduate Ethel Benjamin for the University of Otago's 150th commemorations next year.

With the closure of the theatre it remained to be seen what would happen with the project, but she was hopeful it would still go ahead.

Dr Duncan said of the Fortune closure it was "crucial" for a Unesco city of literature such as Dunedin to have live theatre.

Her latest play Eloise in the Middle is due to be staged at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery later this month, and her next project would a memoir of her own struggles with Cushing's Disease.

She was writing it partly at the urging of doctors who had treated her for the rare condition.

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