Ashleigh Young is one of a number of writers currently distinguishing themselves as the latest generation to emerge from the creative writing program at Victoria University in Wellington. The course, founded by Bill Manhire in 1975, maintains the supply of excellence that attracted so much resentment as its ‘spectacular babies’ – from Barbara Anderson to Eleanor Catton – carried off the prizes and earned international praise.
Five of the eight categories in this year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards were taken by VUP authors, among them Hera Lindsay Bird, whose eponymous volume won Best First Book for Poetry. ‘Keats is dead so fuck me from behind,’ sings Bird, a long way from the austere feminist politics of Dinah Hawken in the 1990s. Yet one observation about VUP writers has been that they have made poetry ‘unpoetic’. If Bird confirms this, Young reverses it, making the personal essay a work of resonant literary art. Can You Tolerate This? took both the Ockham non-fiction award and Yale University’s Windham–Campbell Prize.