Birthday: December 15, 1945
Nationality: New Zealander
Died At Age: 58
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Born Country: New Zealand
Born in: Wellington
Famous as: Historian & Biographer
Spouse/Ex-: Maria Jungowska, Ros
father: Lewis King
children: Jonathan King, Rachael King
Died on: March 30, 2004
place of death: Maramarua
Cause of Death: Accident
City: Wellington, New Zealand
education: Sacred Heart College, St. Patrick's College, Silverstream, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Waikato
awards: 2003 - Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in Non-Fiction
1980 - Feltex Television Writers' Award
1980 - Winston Churchill Fellowship
1988 - Fulbright Visiting Writers' Fellowship
1988 - Order of the British Empire
1987 - NZ Literary Fund Award
1989 - NZ Literary Fund Award
1984 - Wattie Book Of The Year Award
1990 - Wattie Book Of The Year Award
1978 - NZ Book Award for non fiction
2004 - Montana NZ Book Awards
2003 - New Zealander of the Year
Michael King was a New Zealand biographer, author and historian and worked on exploring the Maori culture and history throughout his life. He wrote biographies on important Maori sources like Te Puea Herangi, Whina Cooper, Janet Frame, etc. With these important accounts of the Maori times, King was able to scratch the history of New Zealand and establish Maori’s relevance with it. He did not only study Maori culture but also did his research and writings on the Pakeha literature as he himself belonged to the Pakeha ethnicity. Through his books: ‘Being Pakeha’, biography on ‘Frank Sargeson’ and ‘Being Pakeha Now’, he established that Pakeha literature and culture has the same importance as Maori and both the cultures have the same spiritual significance. Through his various books and biographies, King has carved out the psyche of the New Zealanders and of the nation itself. He is the writer of books like: ‘Moko: Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century’, ‘Te Puea’, ‘Whina’, Moriori: A People Rediscovered’, ‘A Land Apart: The Chathan Islands of New Zealand’, ‘In Tread Softly: For You Tread On My Life’, ‘In At The Edge of Memory: A Family Story’, etc. His most famous book ‘The Penguin History of New Zealand’ fetched him the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement in the category of nonfiction writing.
Childhood & Early Life
Michael King was born on 15 December 1945 in Wellington, New Zealand, to Eleanor and Commander King Lewis. He had three siblings. His family belonged to the Irish and Scottish ethnicity and followed the Catholic culture. He always found his elders to be yearning for their ‘old countries’ and their ancient pasts. This sparked up his interest in the history of New Zealand, in its archaeology and terrain from a very early age.
He was immersed in the rich and manifold history of New Zealand by reading classics like James Cowan’s ‘The New Zealand Wars’. This interest in history and past led him to take up a bachelor’s course in history at the Victoria University in 1967 and masters in 1968 from the University of Waikato, where he did his Ph.D in 1978.
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After completing his Ph.D in 1978, he joined the staff of the Waikato Times, where he was allocated to cover the Maori issues. This expedition brought him closer to Tainui tribes and their power base at Turangawaewae marae in Ngaruawahia.
King’s expertise on Maori etiquettes and access to many Maori informants helped him immensely in his writing all through 1970s and 1980s. This was the time when he wrote many books on the tribe and their culture, like: ‘Moko: Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century’. The book contained Marti Friedlander’s lamenting photographs of the exisiting kuia with moko. Another book ‘Maori: A Photographic and Social History’ was written by him 1983. King’s most important work on Maori was also written during this period - ‘Te Puea’ in 1977 and ‘Whina’ in 1983. These were biographies on two fascinating Maori leaders. In these biographies King drew a charismatic but critical description of these women leaders from the Maori tribes, telling about the times in which Te Puea Herangi and Whina Cooper lived along with his personal documentary of archive material.
In 1995, King did another biography called ‘Frank Sargeson’. The book was considered to be full of vigorous narrative on Maori culture with Sargeson’s experiences and details of his life. It also contains the experiences of Sargeson’s many friends and enemies, which helps in carving out history of Pakeha literature in New Zealand.
By the end of 90s, King tried to shed his image of being just the storyteller of selectively Maori figures, history and culture. This was the time when he explored his own ethnicity in ‘Being Pakeha’ and dealt with the vast topic of the nature of Pakeha New Zealand cultures. He was more inclined towards Pakeha literature because he was a Pakeha himself and he was always thin-skinned towards the fact that he was a Pakeha, writing mostly about the Maori world. The more he explored the Maori world the more aware he became of the fact that Pakehas has the same richness as Maoris and had the same right to be spiritually associated with the nature.
He wrote other books like: a biography called ‘Janet Frame’ in 2000, ‘The Penguin History of New Zealand’ in 2004 and also contributed to ‘Dictionary of New Zealand Biography’ in which he especially wrote about the life of Tommy Solomon who is known to be the ‘Last of the Morioris’. Amongst other books were: ‘Moriori: A People Rediscovered’ in 1989 and ‘A Land Apart: The Chathan Islands of New Zealand’ in 1990, which was a photojournalist essay made in collaboration with the photographer Robin Morrison. He wrote ‘Being Pakeha Now’ to replace his own ‘Being Pakeha’. It is a memoir; a celebration of New Zealand and its people and is an in-depth journey into the psyche of New Zealand.
As a mark of respect for his country, King also authored many popular tourist picture books and history books on New Zealand. He also guided the other professional writers from New Zealand by indicating to them what kind of writing and projects are still necessary for New Zealand. His book ‘In Tread Softly: For You Tread On My Life’ that came out in 2001, King exclusively discussed the matters of importance for biographers. He indicates in the book that it is necessary for the biographer to figure out the compassionate truth and choose what obligations he owes to his subject and the readers.
In 2002, he wrote ‘In At The Edge of Memory: A Family Story’, in which he tries to examine a anonymity that engaged his family and extended family for over centuries; the fact that a man (one of their ancestors) turns up in New Zealand in 20th century and no one knows about his past or where he came from, for there are no documents. He establishes himself as a Catholic businessman in a country that bears not his past but only the present and the future. Next year, in 2003, King’s ‘New Zealanders at War: A New Zealand Classic’ came out which covered the fact that for many years warfare governed New Zealanders’ life and national experience.
Awards & Achievements
In 1976, King received one of New Zealand’s most outstanding and celebrated literary awards, the ‘Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship’. This fellowship facilitates the recipient to work in Menton, France, for a year.
His biography on Janet Frame ‘Wrestling with the Angel’ which came out in 2000, bagged him the Montana Medal in the category of the best Nonfiction. Also, he received the Montana Award for History and Biography, which he shared with a fellow New Zealand writer Gregory O’Brien. For the same work in 2001, he was honored with the Reader’s Choice Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the Nielsen Book Data New Zealand Bookseller’s Choice Award.
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In the year 2003, King was honored with the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement in the category of nonfiction. He received a prize of 60,000 New Zealand dollars. These awards are meant to be given to the writers from New Zealand who make an outstanding contribution to the literature of New Zealand. For ‘The Penguin History of New Zealand’ he won the Reader’s Choice Award in 2004. During the award ceremony, King was named as the ‘Reviewer of the Year’. The same book won the Nielsen Book Data New Zealand Bookseller’s Choice Award in the same year.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1967, King married Ros Henry and they both had two children together - Jonathan Michael born in 1967 and Rachael Frances born in 1970. Jonathan is a successful filmmaker in New Zealand and Rachael is a known novelist, like her father.
In 1987, he got married for the second time to Maria Jungowska, an editor in a book publishing firm and in 1993 they both moved to Opoutere in the Coromandel, New Zealand.
In 2004, King and his second wife Maria were killed in a car fire after their car crashed into a tree near Maramarua, on the State Highway 2, in the north of Waikato. It has still not been figured out how the car crashed because the speed of the car has not been detected as the cause of the accident.
When King died along with his wife Maria, a public memorial service was kept to honor their lives at Te Papa, in Wellington.
In 2008, Waikato University purchased King’s house in Opoutere when his children, Jonathan and Rachael decided to sell it.
At the time of his death, he was involved with the New Zealand Society of Authors in mentoring young Maori writers.
He is known to have a great sense of humor, massive curiosity and a scholarly depth.
King was a diabetic patient. He also suffered for throat cancer in 2003 and went through chemotherapy.