Honour to join 'roll call of New Zealand literature'

By John Lewis | Posted: Wednesday October 9, 2019

How easy will it be to write poetry with a pen in one hand and a glass of French vin rouge in the other?

Sue Wootton says: ''I'll let you know.''

The award-winning Dunedin writer has just added another award to her list, after winning the 2020 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship.

She plans to use the associated $35,000 of funding to live in the south of France next year and spend three months working on a new poetry collection.

''This is a real honour.

''There's something pretty special about going in the footsteps of not just Katherine Mansfield - that's important - but also the other writers who have held this fellowship for the last 50 years.

''It's a real roll call of New Zealand literature.''

Previous recipients include Bill Manhire, Janet Frame, Witi Ihimaera, Elizabeth Knox, Lloyd Jones, Roger Hall, Marilyn Duckworth, Michael King and Allen Curnow.

Ms Wootton said she remembered reading Mansfield's Bliss when she was a teenager, and being ''knocked sideways'' by what she could do with a sentence.

Forty years on, Ms Wootton said she was looking forward to living and writing at a former residence of Mansfield's - at Villa Isola Bella in Menton.

Mansfield spent long periods there after contracting tuberculosis. The climate in southern France was thought to be beneficial to her health.

''My main project while I'm there will be writing poetry towards a new collection whose working title is Systems of Light,'' Ms Wootton said.

''I have the wonderful feeling that the chance to immerse myself in a completely different place and language will generate, to use Katherine Mansfield's phrase, a whole new 'shower of sparks'.''

Ms Wootton is a former physiotherapist and acupuncturist, turned poet and fiction writer.

She writes about myriad subjects, but has a particular interest in the intersection of medicine and the humanities.

Before she leaves for France, the busy writer hopes to complete a novel and submit her PhD thesis at the University of Otago, where she is researching the importance of imagination and language in recovery and wellbeing.

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