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Margaret Mahy’s death on 23 July 2012 brought forth an unprecedented outpouring of grief and heartfelt tributes from around New Zealand and the world. Her passing at 76 was breaking news in the media, unstoppable through the social networks, noted by political leaders in Parliament and by children in classrooms throughout the country. Celebrated as a member of the Order of New Zealand (the country’s highest civil honour), twice honorary Doctor of Letters and twice winner of Britain’s Carnegie Medal for children’s literature, Margaret was one of the world’s leading authors for younger readers for four decades.
In her own country she was popularly known as the writer in the multicoloured wig who wrote marvellously funny picture books and enchanted generations of school children. But internationally, she was primarily recognised for her ground-breaking young adult novels; anyone who heard her speak knew that she was also a brilliant essayist, an expert on children’s literature, a scholar and philosopher. For many fellow writers, teachers and librarians she was a treasured friend, supportive, generous and wonderful company.
For children, she was the storyteller supreme, warm, full of wonder, magic and mischief – and on their side. Her story had its fairy-tale elements. In 1968, a hard-pressed solo mother of two daughters, working as a librarian by day and writing long into the night, she was ‘discovered’ by a leading American publisher who flew ‘to the end of the earth’ to offer her a multi-book publishing contract. From those first picture books, through the great novels of the 1980s and new books and awards right up to the year of her death, she came to be regarded as the third in New Zealand’s literary pantheon, alongside Katherine Mansfield and Janet Frame.
In 2006 her achievements were recognised by IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People), awarding her the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the world’s ‘Little Nobel’, for her distinguished contribution to children’s literature. In Margaret Mahy: A writer’s life, fellow author Tessa Duder paints a fascinating portrait of her life as the writer of more than 250 books and passionate advocate of the importance of stories in all our lives.
About the Author
Tessa Duder trained as a journalist before becoming, in a literary career now spanning three decades, one of New Zealand’s best-known writers. Her awards include the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal, the Katherine Mansfield Fellowship, an Artists to Antarctica Fellowship, and the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-loved Book for her first novel, Night Race to Kawau. In 2008 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato.
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