Writers bring bilingual poetry and nature non-fiction to University of Canterbury

An ‘eco-fiction’ writer and a musician-poet who plans to explore the current te reo Māori renaissance will bring their creativity to the University of Canterbury this year.

  • Ariana Tikao

    Ariana Tikao has been appointed an Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury this year. Photo credit: Ebony Lamb


Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 – Quality Education

Dr Octavia Cade and Ariana Tikao have been chosen as the University’s Ursula Bethell Writers in Residence for 2023. Dr Cade will be at the University for the first semester and Tikao for semester two.

Dr Cade is a New Zealand speculative fiction writer who has published short stories, a novel, several novellas, poetry and a non-fiction essay collection. She has won five Sir Julius Vogel awards and been longlisted for the Ngaio Marsh award.

With a Master’s in Biology from Waikato University and a PhD in Science Communication from Otago University, her focus is on writing stories about science and ecology.

“A large part of my training in science communication has been on the power of story, and how storytelling can be used in different ways to engage readers with the natural and physical world-particularly the ways in which humans interact with that world,” Dr Cade says. “As a fiction writer, my interest has tended towards eco-fiction.”

One example of this is her recent novella The Impossible Resurrection of Grief which explores the human response to a world where biodiversity loss and environmental collapse in the wake of climate change is an increasing phenomenon.

Dr Cade’s award-winning 2020 novel The Stone Wētā (Paper Road Press) looks at how scientists adapt to censorship of climate data, and the effects this has on how they work.

She plans to use her residency to work on Milk Teeth, a collection of creative non-fiction essays which look at how landscape and ecology in this country can be interpreted through a speculative lens. She hopes to create “imaginative and accessible nonfiction about natural history in New Zealand”.

Tikao is a songwriter, composer and taonga pūoro specialist who was named Arts Laureate by the New Zealand Arts Foundation in 2020. She has recently shifted back towards creative non-fiction and poetry.

Much of her work is inspired by tīpuna (ancestor) stories and her identity as a Kāi Tahu wahine. She has recently published a new book Mokorua: Ngā kōrero mō tōku moko kauae: My story of moko kauae (published by Auckland University Press) with photography by Matt Calman and a te reo Māori translation by her husband Ross Calman.

Her recently completed International Institute of Modern Letters Masters Project was a hybrid of creative non-fiction and poetry, entitled Ancestor in my throat.

During her residency she will work on a bilingual poetry collection inspired by the kaupapa of te reo Māori, which she says she has a complicated relationship with, as a second language learner of her ancestral tongue.

“Aspects I would like to explore include the beauty and complexity of its vocabulary and grammar, and stories behind local Māori place names from the Canterbury area. I am also interested in reflecting on the fervour for te reo Māori currently being displayed by so many New Zealanders.”

The Ursula Bethell Residency in Creative Writing, jointly funded by the University of Canterbury Faculty of Arts and Creative New Zealand, was established by the University of Canterbury in 1979 to provide support for New Zealand writers and foster their work.

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