The Robert Burns Fellowship

The Robert Burns Fellowship is New Zealand's premier literary residency. It was established in 1958 by a group of anonymous Dunedin citizens to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Burns, and to perpetuate the community's appreciation of the part played by the related Dunedin family of Dr Thomas Burns in the early settlement of Otago. The Fellowship aims to encourage and promote imaginative New Zealand literature and to associate writers with the University.

The annual, 12-month Fellowship provides an office in the English Department and not less than the minimum salary of a full-time university lecturer. It is open to writers of poetry, drama, fiction, biography, autobiography, essays or literary criticism who are normally resident in New Zealand, and who, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, have established by their published work, or otherwise, that their writing would benefit from their holding the Fellowship.

Previous Fellowship recipients since 2008

See the list of all previous Fellowship recipients


Photo of Majella Cullinane

Majella Cullinane

Robert Burns Fellow 2014


2014 Robert Burns Fellow Majella Cullinane couldn’t believe it when she took the phone call informing her of her success.

“I asked if she was sure she had the right person,” Majella says.

“It’s one of New Zealand’s most renowned writing residencies so it was a real surprise.”

Born and raised in Ireland, Majella became a New Zealand resident in 2008. She completed an MLitt. in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, in 2006, and has won several awards for her poetry. She has also held Fellowship and Writer-in-Residence positions in Ireland and Scotland. In 2011, her first poetry collection Guarding The Flame was published in Ireland by Salmon Poetry, and in 2012 she was runner-up in the Landfall essay competition.

“I have two projects I’d like to work on next year,” Majella says.

“A second poetry collection and my first novel, set around the First World War and slightly after. The novel begins in Scotland, moves to Ireland and to the battle fields of Europe and features Dunedin as well. I’ll need the whole year to work on something so ambitious. I’m really looking forward to having so much time to write,” she says.

Majella will travel from Paekakariki to Dunedin with her partner Andrew and three year-old son Robbie to take up the Fellowship in February 2014.

^ Top of page

July 2014

It's been almost five and half months since I began the Burns Fellowship, and as I'm about to take a wee holiday I think a progress report is timely. A month or so ago I finished the first draft of my novel set in New Zealand and France between 1890 and 1917, and more recently I completed a third edit of the first part, which amounts to about 30,000 words. So while I let the ink dry on that so to speak, I've also started a little research for my 2nd poetry collection, which is inspired by the letters of two Northern-Irish brothers [my New Zealand partner's ancestors] who came out to New Zealand in 1862. I've also been gathering my thoughts and ideas on my 2nd novel, which is connected to the first, and begins in 1920.

I am often asked how I'm getting on, if I like Dunedin? Absolutely. I feel very at home here, the rain and the frosts are particularly reminiscent of an Irish childhood. But apart from the weather, I have found Dunedinites incredibly welcoming; most particularly the writing community and the University's English Department. I was delighted to be a part of the inaugural Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival in May, and have also participated in the NZSA's Writer's Salon readings and events, The Octagon Collective's Poetry Readings, and presented my first Pecha Kucha in Gore and Invercargill (Southland Literary Festival).

Up until very recently (when it got too cold for Robbie, my wee boy/passenger) we've enjoyed cycling along the Ravensbourne cycle track and harbour each morning; taking in the changing skies, the raucous call of seagulls, and on one occasion the sight of a rather drowsy looking seal. With the end of Daylight Saving in April, I have been very thankful for lifts, (I only started to learn to drive last year), and around the city, invitations to coffee and lunch, and for the many stimulating chats about writing and books, aspirations and dreams, which revitalise and embolden the imagination and creative spirit.

So now it's time to have a rest, and recuperate, to replenish the creative stores, and when I get back tackle Part 2 and Part 3 of the novel, which I'm very much looking forward to.

Otago Fellows University of Otago