Emeritus Prof. Maualaivao Albert Wendt ONZ CNZM (born 1939 in Apia, Samoa) is Professor of English at the University of Auckland, and an acclaimed Samoan-born Novelist and Poet. He has been an influential figure in the developments that have shaped New Zealand and Pacific literature since the 1970s.
Wendt had taught at the University before as a Professor of New Zealand and Pacific Literature from 1988 to 2006. He became one of the First Samoan and Pacific Island professors in New Zealand and is most likely the most well-known Author/Writer of the South Pacific.
Wendt won a scholarship to study in New Zealand in 1952, studying at New Plymouth Boys High. After finishing high school, he enrolled at Ardmore Teachers College in Auckland in 1958. He went on to study at Victoria University in Wellington and graduated with an M.A. (honors) in History by 1964.
After graduating with his Masters degree from Victoria University, Wendt returned home to Samoa in 1965 to teach at Samoa College, and then in 1969, he became the principal of the institution. In 1974, Wendt moved to Suva and became a lecturer at the University of the South Pacific.
Wendt has written several novels, collections of short stories and poetry. Two of his books, Sons for the Return Home and Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree – have both been made into feature films. Leaves of the Banyan Tree, his third novel, won the prestigious New Zealand Wattie Book of the Year Award in 1980.
In 1988 he took up a professorship of Pacific studies at the University of Auckland. His novel titled ‘Ola’ was awarded the regional Asia-Pacific Commonwealth Writer’s Award in 1992. He became the visiting Professor of Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 1999, and later held the Citizens’ Chair from 2004 to 2008.
In 2000, he delivered the 2000 Book Council lecture, entitled ‘Le Vaipe: the Dead Water’, at the 2000 Festival. Wendt was awarded Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZOM) for Services to Literature that same year.
Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English was the first anthology of contemporary Polynesian poetry in English edited by Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan. It won the award for Reference and Anthology at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
Wendt has been known to use his own paintings in his publications. When he returned to New Zealand in 2008, an exhibition of his paintings opened in Auckland. In 2009, he was awarded a Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Hawai‘i.
In 2010, he won the prestigious 2010 regional Asia-Pacific Commonwealth Writer’s Award for The Adventures of Vela (an award he had won previously in 1992).
Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poetry in English was published in 2010 and is the follow-up volume to Whetu Moana – Whetu Moana Lua II – by editors Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan. The anthology was a finalist in the Poetry category of the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards.
Wendt is currently Emeritus Professor at the University of Auckland and continues his writing and painting full-time. He has edited a number of important anthologies and continues to play a major role in fostering and promoting Pacific literature. Wendt has written numerous scholarly articles for various magazines and journals.
In November 2012, Wendt was awarded New Zealand’s highest literary award – the 2012 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for Fiction at Premier House in Wellington. In the 2013, Wendt was appointed a member of the Order of New Zealand in the Queen’s Birthday annual honors list.
Highlights and Awards:
- Awarded First Chair in Pacific Literature at University of the South Pacific
- Leaves of the Banyan Tree won first place, winning the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book of the Year Award in 1980
- Awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Asia Pacific Region in 1992 for his novel ‘Ola’
- Received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bourgogne in Dijon, France in 1993
- He delivered the 2000 Book Council lecture, entitled ‘Le Vaipe: the Dead Water’, at the 2000 Festival. He was awarded Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Literature in the same year.
- Awarded New Zealand’s Senior Pacific Islands Artist’s Award in 2003
- Awarded Japan’s Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture in 2004
- Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English won the Montana Award for Reference and Anthology at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards
- Received an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from Victoria University in 2005
- Received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Hawai‘i in 2009
- The Adventures of Vela (Huia 2009) won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Asia Pacific Region for 2010 (Wendt first won this award in 1992)
- Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English – Whetu Moana II was edited by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan (Auckland University Press, 2010). The anthology was a finalist in the Poetry category of the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards
- Awarded the 2012 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for Fiction at Premier House in Wellington