Keri Hulme, New Zealand’s First Booker Prize Winner, Dies at 74

After attending North New Brighton Primary School and Aranui High School in Christchurch, Ms. Hulme worked for a season picking hops and tobacco in the Tasman region before briefly studying law at the University of Canterbury.

She then took odd jobs across the country before working at the post office in the rural town of Greymouth on the remote West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. She believed it would give her time and space to write.

It was there that she learned to whitebait, or catch tiny, transparent juvenile fish. It was an “obsession,” as she put it, that sustained her for the rest of her life. Dr. Evans described her regularly absconding from one writing residency with a net for catching whitebait strapped to the roof of her car.

“You’d see this whitebaiting net, sort of moving out through the car park, and you knew she was getting away,” he said.

Ms. Hulme continued to live mostly on the West Coast, including for more than four decades in the small New Zealand settlement of Okarito, a former gold-mining village, on a plot she won in a lottery in 1973. When she had lived farther inland, she told the magazine Flash Frontier in 2012, “I get depressed and sick, drink too much and don’t do anything creative.”

At once shy with strangers and a generous, gregarious host to those she loved, Ms. Hulme was uninterested in romantic or sexual relationships, referring to herself as “neuter.” She never married or had children and is survived by two sisters, Kate Salmons and Diane McAuliffe, and a brother, John Hulme, in addition to many nieces and nephews.

“If you knew her, if she knew you, she would make time and move heaven and earth to make time for you and spend that time well,” said Matthew Salmons, her nephew. “The family she was born into and the family that she made was the utmost of importance to her,” he added.

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