Celebrating the life of one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent public intellectuals

The life and work of one of the foremost scholars of New Zealand culture will be celebrated in an event next month that will feature high profile literary and musical tributes, with details of a new scholarship to be revealed, too.

Dr Lydia Wevers ONZM was a Professor at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. She was an internationally renowned literary historian and critic, teacher, writer and scholar who specialised in New Zealand studies. She was appointed director of the University’s Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies in 2001, reinvigorating it and transforming it into the highly respected hub of Aotearoa New Zealand study that it is today. She was appointed professor emerita after her retirement in 2017, and right to the end of her life she continued to be engaged with the University. Lydia died in September last year.

As a way to pay tribute to their valued colleague and close personal friend, a number of Lydia’s Te Herenga Waka counterparts organised a seminar series addressing themes and activities in New Zealand research that were central to Lydia’s work. The series will culminate on 8 June with a special celebration where attendees will have the opportunity to honour Lydia’s intellectual legacy and share personal recollections of their late friend.

One organiser is the newly-appointed Director of the Stout Centre, Professor Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich, who also counted Lydia as a close personal friend.

“She was simply an extraordinary person who had a knack for bringing people together. She was a staunch supporter of the importance of the humanities, but everything Lydia did for the Stout Centre was across all disciplines—from engineering, geography, business and law, as well as her beloved literature,” says Professor Bönisch-Brednich.

“She formed friendships with so many people at Te Herenga Waka—from the cleaners to the gardeners and the Council members—and across Wellington and New Zealand too. So that’s a big reason why we want to hold a joyful event where anyone who knew her can come along and celebrate this remarkable woman who we all miss.”

Renowned author Witi Ihimaera will speak at the tribute—he was Lydia’s lifelong friend and fellow Oxford scholar. There will also be a musical performance. The event will feature other speakers from across the University, and will be MCed by Te Herenga Waka’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor—Māori, Professor Rawinia Higgins.

Professor Bönisch-Brednich says because Lydia died when COVID restrictions were in place last year, very few people were able to attend her funeral.

“There was a sense of enormous grief at the University that people weren’t able to pay tribute to Lydia, and that was a big driver behind the concept for this seminar series that covers six major topics relating to her research and working life,” she explains. “It’s given us the opportunity to talk about her work, and to think about how those topics will look in the future. The series is also a fantastic way to boost the Stout Centre’s profile and send the message that we’re back in business.”

To ensure her work and legacy continue into the future, Lydia’s family and friends want to create an endowed scholarship in her name. The scholarship, details of which will be announced at the 8 June event, will be open to postgraduate students from any discipline whose research relates to New Zealand.

“The recipient of the Lydia Wevers Scholarship in New Zealand Studies will be supervised by academics from their discipline, but will have their own space within the Stout Centre to enjoy the stimulating and supportive community of scholars we have here,” says Professor Bönisch-Brednich. “With one young person receiving this scholarship each year, it will add up to something significant over time. I think that’s something of which Lydia would be proud.”