Witi Ihimaera was the first Maori to publish both a book of short
stories and a novel, and has published many notable novels,
collections of short stories and in 2020 published his substantial
nonfiction work, Navigating the Stars. Described by Metro magazine
as 'Part oracle, part memoralist,' and 'an inspired voice, weaving
many stories together', Ihimaera has also written for stage and
screen - including libretti - edited books on the arts and culture,
as well as published various works for children.
His best-known novel is The Whale Rider, which was made into a hugely, internationally successful film in 2002. His novel Nights in the Garden of Spain was also made into a feature film, and was distributed internationally under the name of Kawa. The feature film White Lies was based on his novella Medicine Woman. And his novel Bulibasha, King of the Gypsies inspired the 2016 feature film Mahana.
His first book, Pounamu, Pounamu, has not been out of print since its first publication in 1972. His works have received many awards over the years, such as the Wattie Book of the Year Award and the Montana Book Award, and most recently the Ockham Award for best non-fiction in 2016 for his first volume of memoir, Maori Boy. The second volume, Native Son, was published in 2019, the same year Purakau was released, which he co-edited- editing volumes celebrating the work of other writers has also been an important part of Witi's focus.
He has also had careers in diplomacy, teaching, theatre, opera, film and television. He has received numerous awards for his contribution to literature, including the inaugural Star of Oceania Award, University of Hawaii, a laureate award from the New Zealand Arts Foundation 2009, the Toi Maori Maui Tiketike Award 2011, and the Premio Ostana International Award, presented to him in Italy 2010. In 2004 he became a Distinguished Companion of the Order of New Zealand, in 2017 France made him Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the same year he received the NZ Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement.
Receiving the Maori arts award Te Tohutiketike a Te Waka Toi, Ihimaera said, 'To be given Maoridom's highest cultural award, well, it's recognition of the iwi. Without them, I would have nothing to write about and there would be no Ihimaera. So this award is for all those ancestors who have made us all the people we are. It is also for the generations to come, to show them that even when you aren't looking, destiny has a job for you to do.'