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Bornholdt, Jenny - Literary papers of Jenny Bornholdt

 Fonds — Multiple Containers
Identifier: borj


  • Creation: 1979-

Biographical/Historical note

The Jenny Bornholdt Papers are part of the New Zealand Literary Archive Project begun by Victoria University of Wellington Foundation and Independent Newspapers Limited, which is now supported by the Victoria University of Wellington Library.

Jenny Bornholdt, New Zealand poet, anthologist and freelance writer was born in 1960 in Lower Hutt, a suburb of Wellington. Since 1994, she has been married to Gregory O'Brien, a poet, artist and exhibition curator. Together, they have two children, Felix (b. 1996) and Carlo (b. 1998).

Although Jenny Bornholdt enjoyed writing when she was young, 'being' a writer was not something she considered growing up. She has, however, always been an avid reader. In an early interview with Mark Pirie and Helen Rickerby (1995), she remarked: 'My mother used to take us to the library once a week and we'd get four books out. I always read stories. . .I don't remember properly reading poetry. . .But my parents [Jeanette and Bruce Bornholdt] always encouraged us to read and we were read to a lot as kids' (21).

Bornholdt's association with the work of writing began in journalism. On leaving Hutt Valley High School in 1977, she was employed as a proof reader at the Evening Post before completing the Wellington Polytechnic Journalism Course in 1978. In 1979, she worked as sole charge reporter for the Waimate Daily Advertiser (South Island), where she was responsible for all news coverage, including local body and court reporting.

Back in Wellington in 1980, Bornholdt continued working in journalism before starting her Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree (English Literature) in 1981 at Victoria University of Wellington. The final paper of her undergraduate degree was Bill Manhire's Original Composition course (Engl 252). Bornholdt has often said that this is where her literary career began: 'I think the main thing I learnt was to take writing seriously, actually. And that it's a real thing to do, and quite a serious thing to do, and that it's all right to do it' (Pirie and Rickerby, 1995: 21-22).

After completing her University degree part-time in 1984, Bornholdt continued to write while working in various part-time jobs (see Summary note). Her poetry was published for the first time in November of 1985, in the New Zealand literary magazine Islands. Two years later, she received the first of three Project Grants from the New Zealand Literary Fund that have intermittently allowed her to write full-time and to make her own path as a poet.

As well as opening up a space for her to write in, the receipt of literary grants and awards is frequently associated in Bornholdt's life with an opportunity to travel. With the aid of her first Project Grant in 1987 she moved to Dunedin where she completed the manuscript for her first collection of poems This Big Face. The publication of this book by Victoria University Press (VUP) in 1988 marked the beginning of an ongoing relationship between Jenny Bornholdt and the then small publishing house, headed in Wellington by Fergus Barrowman.

In 1988, with the aid of a second Project Grant, Bornholdt moved to Auckland. But it was not until 1990 that she was able to venture further a field, travelling overseas on a Creative New Zealand Bursary to research material for her third collection of poems, Waiting Shelter (VUP, 1991), which she began in Wellington in 1989. More recently, Bornholdt has been the recipient of the prestigious Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Fellowship (2002), affording her and her family travel in Europe and accommodation in Menton, France (resulting in the majority of poems published in her seventh collection, Summer (VUP, 2003)).

Such a movement along world lines is also often found in Bornholdt's poetry, a site where the mundane will playfully surface with an editor's attention to its words and a journalist's ear for its stories. An exploration of the crossroads where word and image, word and sound, or word and object combine is another characteristic, and poems she has written (some specially commissioned) have been rendered in forms as diverse as radio programmes, hand printed books, multi-media displays, a glass screen of a private house, public sculptural works, bus shelters, ceramic pots, lithographs, musical compositions, and paintings.

In addition to being popular among readers of all ages, Bornholdt's writing has been praised by critics and reviewers for, as Paul Millar writes in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature (1998: 65), its 'freshness and the concealed depths in its lucid explorations of the simple and the familiar.' Her first three poetry collections were shortlisted in the poetry section of the New Zealand Book Awards, which she won for An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English (1997), co-edited with Mark Williams.

Jenny Bornholdt currently resides in Wellington. In 2003, she was the recipient of an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award, which celebrates her continuing achievement and talent as a writer.

- Virginia Gow, 2004

Jenny was awarded the honour of becoming the fifth Te Mata Estate Poets Laureate in 2005. During this time she wrote a book of poetry titled "Mrs Winter's Jump." The titular poem would later be chosen for "Best New Zealand Poems" 2007.

Two more of her poems were selected to appear in "Best New Zealand Poems": "Photograph" in 2005 and "Medical" in 2006.

In collaboration with her husband, Gregory O'Brien, Jenny edited "The Colour of Distance: New Zealand Writers in France, French Writers in New Zealand" in 2005.

In 2006 Jenny was featured in Paul Thompson's "Shards of Silver", an anthology of ‘photographically informed’ poems.

By 2008 she had published "The Rocky Shore" featuring six poems written over six years. The following year, this collection of poems won the Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.

Jenny was the Victoria University of Wellington Writer in Residence in 2010. During her tenure, she completed a book of poems, "The Hill of Wool". This would be published by Victoria University Press in 2011. During her time as Writer in Residence, she was interviewed by Harry Ricketts for the anthology "Words Chosen Carefully", edited by Siobhan Harvey.

Jenny was acknowledged in the New Year's Honour's list as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2013, receiving many congratulations from politicians and publishers.

A large ouvre of her poems spanning thirty years and nine collections was printed by Victoria University Press in 2013, simply titled "Selected Poems". Following this, Jenny produced a new collection of poems in 2019, titled "Lost and Somewhere Else".


1978: Journalism Course at Wellington Polytechnic.

1979: Sole charge reporter for Waimate Daily Advertiser and stringer for other South Island media sources.

1980: Editor with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' Media section.

1983: BA in Literature at Victoria University of Wellington. Mostly English papers, with some Classics and Philosophy. Also, the stage 2 Drama course (including play writing option), and stage 2 & 3 Film courses.

1984: Finishes BA part-time doing Bill Manhire's Original Composition course. Works as part-time researcher for TVNZ's Eye Witness News.

1985: Half way through year leaves TVNZ for part-time job at Wellington Public Library. Involved with the theatre company Famous Door.

1986: Mid-year, leaves library and does a variety of part-time work, including as editorial assistant with Mallinson-Rendel Publishing Company. Performs at the Fringe Arts Festival in Wellington as part of Famous Door.

1987: Moves to Dunedin in June. First Major Project Grant from the New Zealand Literary Fund means can write full time. Completes This Big Face manuscript (first book, accepted by VUP). Begins work on new manuscript with the working title ‘Missing Persons’ (becomes Moving House).

1988: Living back in Wellington. This Big Face published by VUP. Works full-time for Radio NZ's Drama Department as Administration Officer, resigning later to put more time into writing. Receives second Project Grant and moves to Auckland, working on poems and prose pieces.

1989: This Big Face short-listed in the poetry section of the NZ Book Awards. Finishes Moving House manuscript - published by VUP.

1990: Moving House shortlisted in the poetry section of the NZ Book Awards. First attendance at Listener Womens Book Festival. Awarded Travel Bursary by New Zealand Literary Fund to research material for third book of poems. Travels overseas (July to October), writing in notebooks.

1991: Completes Waiting Shelter manuscript, drawing on material from travel notebooks and other poems. Manuscript published by VUP.

1992: Waiting Shelter short-listed in the poetry section of the NZ Book Awards. Working on new poems, which will become part of the manuscript for How We Met.

1993: Puts together manuscript for a ‘new and selected poems’, with a view to VUP finding a joint publisher overseas. Book remains unpublished until 1997. Some poems from unpublished manuscript will become part of collection How We Met instead.

1994: Marries Gregory O’Brien. Finishes How We Met manuscript, accepted by VUP (first book to be published with illustrations of poems - drawings by Noel McKenna). In December, Brendan O’Brien, Gregory’s brother begins operating a small press in his garage. Start of an ongoing interest by Bornholdt and O’Brien in hand printed productions.

1995: How We Met published by VUP. Agrees to participate in Victoria University of Wellington Literary Archive project. Deposits first papers under this agreement.

1996: Felix Bornholdt born, 28th January. Publishes first anthology, My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems (Godwit. Co-edited with Gregory O’Brien). Re-works 1993 ‘new and selected’ for publication by VUP as Miss New Zealand: Selected Poems.

1997: Miss New Zealand: Selected Poems published by VUP. An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English, co-edited with Mark Williams and published by Oxford University Press, wins poetry category in 1997 Montana Book Awards.

Gregory O’Brien begins work at City Gallery as a curator. Bornholdt will also work there, as co-ordinator of public programmes.

First commission (by Kingsley Baird & Studio of Pacific Architecture) — contribution of poem for proposal for competition to design a public sculpture work for Anzac Parade, Canberra (completed 2001).

1998: Second son, Carlo O'Brien born. Involved in City Gallery events, including slide talk with readings 'Poetry and Modernism' with Gregory O’Brien. Also works again with Noel McKenna and others to produce a small book (Caravan) for his show at Bowen Galleries.

1999: Completes manuscript for These Days. Studio of Pacific Architecture wins competition for Anzac Memorial Sculpture.

2000: These Days published by VUP.

2001: Editing an anthology of very short New Zealand poems. Also working on untitled collection of new poems (will become part of manuscript for Summer). Applies for and receives Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. Begins commissioned work for Learning Media Ltd, writing poems for young readers.

2002: Spends May to October with family in Europe, as Katherine Mansfield Fellow. Works with Bodo Korsig to produce suite of lithographs at PaperGraphica in Christchurch. Also participates in exhibition 'Conversation Pieces' at City Gallery.

2003: Summer published by VUP. Receives Laureate Award, one of New Zealand's largest monetary awards, and the only private award to cover a range of art forms. Continues to work on commission.

2004: Collection to date preliminarily arranged and described.

2005: Jenny became the 5th Te Mata Estate Poets Laureate, (aka New Zealand Poets Laureate), during which time she wrote "Mrs Winter's Jump".

2006: "Medical" was chosen for Best New Zealand Poems 2006. Bornholdt featured in Shards of Silver (Steele Roberts), a book investigating the interplay between photography and poetry.

2007: "Mrs Winter’s Jump" was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2007.

2008: "The Rocky Shore" poetry collection was published by Victoria University Press; containing six long poems written over the course of six years.

2009: "The Rocky Shore" won the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.

2010: Jenny was the Creative New Zealand Victoria University Writer in Residence. During that year she completed a book of poems, "The Hill of Wool"

2011: "The Hill of Wool" was published by VUP.

2013: Jenny was acknowledged in the New Year's Honour's list as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

2016: "Selected Poems" was published by VUP provides a full representation of Jenny Bornholdt’s work through nine collections and nearly thirty years.

2019: Te Herenga Waka University Press (aka VUP) published "Lost and Somewhere Else".


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An initial version of this finding aid was completed in 2004 by Virginia Gow as part of her course work for a School of Information Management paper at Victoria University of Wellington. Accessions since 2004 have been listed at the end of this finding aid, and will be added to the series system proper as resources permit.

Administrative Information

All text and images are copyright to Victoria University of Wellington. Enquiries for re-use should be made in the first instance to the J C Beaglehole Room, VUW Library.

Finding aid for the literary archives of Jenny Bornholdt
Edited Full Draft
Nicola Frean & Melissa Bryant
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Repository Details

Part of the Tapuaka Heritage & Archive Collections - JC Beaglehole Reading Room, Victoria University of Wellington Library Repository

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