‘for it is only through imaginative thinking that society grows, materially and intellectually’
Charles Brasch, ‘Notes’. Landfall, March, 1959
This year, 2018, is the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. It is the oldest and most prestigious literary art award in New Zealand. There is some mystery surrounding the people who helped set it up, but Dunedin’s own Charles Brasch certainly had a hand in it; it is thus fitting that many of the books on display come from his own collection, which is housed in Special Collections.
On the 7th of September the exhibition, Auld Acquaintances: Celebrating the Robert Burns Fellowship, will begin in the de Beer Gallery, Special Collections at the University of Otago. It will run through until the 7th of December.
The Robert Burns Fellowship was established as a way to foster nascent or already established New Zealand writing talent. Poets, novelists, short story writers, historians, scriptwriters, playwrights, essayists – no genre is excluded. Many of New Zealand’s most well-known writers have been Robert Burns Fellows – Maurice Gee, Janet Frame, James K. Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Witi Ihimaera, Roger Hall, Cilla McQueen, Michael King, Laurence Fearnley…the list goes on.
All of the Robert Burns Fellows will feature in the exhibition. Many of them have written their own paragraphs on how the Fellowship has impacted their lives, making the exhibition a very personal one. In addition and where possible, the publication that resulted from the Fellow’s tenure is on display. From the novelist Ian Cross – first ever Fellow in 1959 – to the Robert Burns Fellow in 2018, poet Rhian Gallagher, this exhibition is a piece of New Zealand’s literary history that everyone needs to see.
For a full roster of other events associated with the Burns Fellowship reunion, see the Department of English and Linguistics’ site.