WHITI HEREAKA (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa) is a playwright, novelist, screenwriter and a barrister and solicitor. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting) from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University and is a trustee of the Māori Literature Trust. She has had many plays produced for the stage, and in 2012 she won the Bruce Mason Award. She has also held a residency at the Michael King Writers' Centre in 2012 and 2017 and was International Writing Programme Writer in Residence, University of Iowa, in 2013. In 2007, she was the writer in residence at Randell Cottage and wrote her first novel, The Graphologist's Apprentice, which was shortlisted for Best First Book in the Commonwealth Writers Prize South East Asia and Pacific 2011. Her second novel, Bugs, won the Honour Award, Young Adult Fiction, New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, 2014, and the Storylines Notable Book Award, Senior Fiction, 2014. Her third novel, Legacy, won the award for Best Young Adult Fiction at the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Her fourth novel, Kurangaituku, won the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction in the New Zealand Book Awards, 2022, and was longlisted for the 2023 Dublin Literary Award.
Kurangaituku is the story of Hatupatu told from the perspective of the traditional 'monster', Kurangaituku, the bird woman. In the traditional story, told from the view of Hatupatu, he is out hunting and is captured by a creature that is part bird and part woman. The bird woman imprisons him in her cave in the mountains. Hatupatu eventually escapes and is pursued by Kurangaituku. He evades her when he leaps over hot springs, but Kurangaituku goes into them and dies. In Whiti Hereaka's version of the story, Kurangaituku takes us on the journey of her extraordinary life – from the birds who sang her into being, to the arrival of the Song Makers and the change they brought to her world, and her life with Hatupatu and her death. Through the eyes of Kurangaituku, we come to see how being with Hatupatu changed Kurangaituku, emotionally and in her thoughts and actions, and how devastating his betrayal of her was.
In this interview Whiti Hereaka says she is writing two further novels in which the character Kurangaituku will appear…Ariā is a haunting or possession story. And there will be a third novel, Pia. "They're not a series as such – you can read them in any order, or just read one of them – but Kurangaituku appears in all three and I hope that the reader will get a deeper understanding of all the books from reading the others!"
"I was secretly hoping for a work that was audacious and broke the mould and that's exactly what we got with Kurangaituku." Rob Kidd, Convening Judge of Ockham New Zealand Book Awards
"Hereaka's skill lies not only in being an excellent storyteller but also in crafting characters who leap off the page, hold you down and insist that you listen to them. " Jackie Lee Morrison, Reading Room
"Kurangaituku is unambiguously queer and perhaps ambiguously a woman and definitely a storyteller. There are so many scenes across this book that set a fire in me." essa may ranapiri, The Spinoff
"'[Hereaka]weaves the words and actions of Kurangaituku's travels through time, the underworld and in the forest in moments that circle each other, intersect and mesmerise as only the best storytelling can.'" Stella Chrysostomou, Volume
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