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Source: New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi O Aotearoa (PEN NZ Inc)

The New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi O Aotearoa (PEN NZ Inc) congratulates Lee Murray on winning the NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize with her manuscript Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud. The prize was created by the NZSA and the Solomon family to fulfil the wishes of Laura Solomon, a novelist, poet and playwright who was a longstanding member of NZSA and a beloved member of the Solomon family. It awards new writing of ‘unique and original vision’ with a cash prize of $2000 and a publishing contract with The Cuba Press. Publication will be early 2024. We also congratulate Melanie Kwang who is the runner-up, winning a cash prize of $1000 with her manuscript Faultlines.

The winning manuscript, Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud is a series of interconnected narrative prose-poems re-imagined from real-life narratives of the Chinese women’s diaspora in Aotearoa and linked through the classic mythology of the Chinese shapeshifting nine-tailed fox spirit, húli jīng, 狐狸精, as it seeks to ascend to its true form in the celestial skies.
Lee’s manuscript was selected by a panel consisting of Mary McCallum and Sarah Bolland (The Cuba Press), Nicky Solomon (Solomon Family) and panel convenor and award-winning author Tina Shaw. Tina says ‘We are excited to be supporting two talented writers as winner and runner-up who have incredibly different ways of exploring their culture. Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud acts on a mythical level that also tells stories of so-called ‘ordinary’ women that we don’t usually hear about. While Faultlines spins stories of understated simplicity and subtlety.’

Nicky Solomon explains ‘For the third year in a row we’ve been so privileged to have received such an array of innovative and high quality work. The flavour of the short-listed works was different again this year, and I was delighted to read through such a fabulous selection. Both the winner and the runner-up absolutely embody the ‘unique and original vision’ that Laura wanted to support, and it is a huge honour to be able to acknowledge these writers sharing insight into the experiences of part of our population arguably under-represented in the creative sector.  I loved both works, and I particularly felt Laura’s presence in the fox of ‘Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud’.  It is a great pleasure to work with The Cuba Press and the NZSA to support such talented writers through this award.

The Cuba Press is thrilled to have signed the third winner for the award named for writer Laura Solomon. Co-directors Mary McCallum and Sarah Bolland say that every year offers up a different bunch of manuscripts that take the judges in interesting and rewarding directions, and each year The Cuba Press is freshly grateful for the Laura Solomon Trust that can support another manuscript to publication that may not otherwise fit easily into a publishing list.

Mary McCallum says, ‘We are thrilled with Lee Murray’s winning manuscript because of its audacious combination of historical reality and mythology, poetic lyricism and political activism. She is telling stories that have waited a long time to be told and we are happy to be a part of making that happen. We are pleased, too, that Melanie Kwang receives a runner-up prize for her fine collection of short fiction that like Lee’s collection tells stories of Asian New Zealanders now and in the past that stay with you long after reading.’

Lee Murray, a multi award-wining writer and poet and third-generation Chinese New Zealander, has focused on Asian women’s narratives before, with fiction anthology Black Cranes, poetry collection, Tortured Willows, and recent essay collection Unquiet Spirits all addressing the otherness, isolation, and generational trauma experienced by women of the Asian diaspora. However, Murray claims this latest prose-poetry collection is her most challenging work to date, not the least because the solo work was written during the pandemic.

Lee writes, “I’m thrilled and also humbled to receive this kind acknowledgement of Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud, a work which has challenged me both personally and creatively since its conception, partly because I wasn’t convinced that once completed it would fit anywhere, given that it straddles prose and poetry, east and west, heaven and earth, real and surreal. It transcends lives and also genre. The main character is a fox girl! Where would I submit it? Would anyone ever read these stories? So I’d like to express my deepest thanks to poet Laura Solomon for her empowering and inclusive vision, to the NZSA, the Laura Solomon Trust, the award judges, and The Cuba Press for offering a home to these nine strange tales of pioneer Chinese women, mothers and daughters who crossed a thousand li to live out their lives on this distant cloud.”

A four-time international Bram Stoker Awards-winner, Murray is a Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellow, an NZSA Honorary Fellow, and an Elgin-, Rhysling-, Dwarf Star-nominated poet. Her poem “cheongsam’ won the 2021 Australian Shadows Award.
Congratulations to runner-up Melanie Kwang, with her manuscript Faultlines!

Melanie Kwang is a first-generation Taishanese-New Zealand writer from Christchurch and says ‘Thank you to the Solomon family, NZSA, The Cuba Press, and everyone involved for giving their time, consideration, and recognition to this work.

It’s given me the confidence to trust my own writing, and its life in whatever comes next.’

A discretionary prize of $1,000 has been offered by the Solomon family to both winner Lee Murray and runner-up Melanie Kwang.
NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize

Award for fresh writing with a ‘unique and original vision’

The NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize celebrates the life and work of the writer Laura Solomon. This prize is judged within the criteria set by Laura Solomon, for new writing with a ‘unique and original vision’. Both published and unpublished writers were invited to enter completed manuscripts written across genres (fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, drama or children’s writing). 

The New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa PEN NZ Inc is the principal organisation representing writers in Aotearoa. Founded in 1934, it advocates for the right to fair reward and creative rights, administers prizes and awards, works closely with the literary sector liaison and runs professional development programmes for writers.