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


Becky Manawatu image

Becky Manawatu

Robert Burns Fellow 2021

Manawatu’s first novel, Auē, won the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for fiction and the Hubert Church Prize for best first book of fiction at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Auē has been compared to Keri Hulme’s Booker Award-winning The Bone People. NZ Herald reviewer Kiran Dass described it as “social realist” New Zealand fiction that deals with themes of domestic violence, gang culture, grief and fractured families, but also “a beautifully pitched and nuanced hopeful story about the power of love, friendship and family.”

Manuwatu says the Fellowship will lead to both personal and professional growth.

“I can't believe it – from little Waimangaroa Primary School, writing fairy tales and ghost stories to this. It is a dream come true and I want to use the time to learn, grow and develop some intelligence and understanding. I want to connect with my whakapapa; my marae are all in Southland – including Murihiku.

“I feel very humbled to be among such an amazing list of New Zealand writers. Plus, it feels like a great adventure, and I know my writing will benefit from an adventure.”

Central to her writing is a narrative voice, which she describes as “soothing”.

“I like arcs. I like light and dark, good versus evil. And I like plot.

“I like reading more subtle, nuanced work too – but I am attracted to writing that’s a bit saga-ish. Romance, murder, lust, heroism – all the wildness and danger most of us do not wrestle with on a usual day, I let my imagination take me there. Mittyesque, I suppose, puerile even, but I can't stop myself once I start. I am a story addict.”

Although her work has been described as ‘social reality’, Manuwatu says it is instead based on “nuggets of social reality [that are used] to make the reader believe they’re being told the truth”.

During the Fellowship tenure Manuwatu will work on Papahaua, a loose sequel to Auē.

“There are some characters there I must try and do right by. Plus, I miss them.”

She also hopes to study te reo Māori while in Otago.

Manawatu lives in Waimangaroa and is a reporter at the Westport News.


Otago Fellows University of Otago