Born in Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island, Keri Hulme identifies not with her primarily “Pakeha” (European) family, but with the Maori, the culture of her maternal grandfather, Tommy Rakakino Mira. The Maori, a Polynesian racial group indigenous to New Zealand, figure prominently in all Hulme’s writings, both poetry and prose. Reticent in discussing many of the details of her early life, Hulme has said that she was raised with a strong sense of her Maori cultural background and that she developed a keen interest in their language and stories. It is this cultural background that gives her writing its sense of foreign mythos.
After having lived exclusively with her parents and having grown up comparing the radically different cultures of her Christchurch relatives and her Oamaru, Moeraki, and Purakanui family, Hulme left home and moved to Motueka in 1965 to work picking tobacco. It was at that time that the eighteen-year-old Hulme heard colloquial Maori for the first time and met North Island Maori, whom she had previously thought to have existed only in stories. Inspired by her contacts with the native populace, Hulme proceeded to write a short story which would form the nucleus of her best-known work, The Bone People.
Keri Hulme held a number of menial jobs (including fishing and cooking) until, at twenty-five, she settled down exclusively as a writer in Cobden, Greymouth. In 1982 she published her first book of poetry, The Silences Between: Moeraki Conversations, exploring the unique rhythms and concepts within the Maori tongue. She was, and continues to be, impressed by the delicate shadings of meaning inherent in the understanding of her grandfather’s language; she finds words in themselves to be powerful and...
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