“Jann Medlicott changed my life”

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Reading room

Dr. Jann Medlicott, radiologist by profession, literary philanthropist by spirit, died on Friday August 12th. She has sponsored the Acorn Prize for Fiction since 2016. Past winners, and others who knew her, share their tribute to a remarkable person.

Catherine Chidgey, winner of the 2017 award: In 2017, I appeared at the Tauranga Arts Festival alongside Stephen Daisley – the first winner of the mighty Acorn. After our session, the organizer slipped in and whispered that someone in the audience would like to have their picture taken with the two of us – and she introduced us to “retired radiologist and avid reader” Jann Medlicott . Something strange was happening – something that remained unspoken, whizzing past just beyond our peripheral vision, flickering in the dimly lit mirrors of the Spiegeltent. Then Stephen and I were pretty sure we understood – Jann was to be our anonymous benefactor.

What a wonderful thing she has done for New Zealand writers by creating the Acorn. Jann was one of a kind and leaves behind an invaluable legacy. I will miss her.

Fiona Kidman, winner of the 2019 award: Jann Medlicott changed my life, even though I couldn’t tell you who my mysterious benefactor was at the time. When Jann decided to share her fortune with writers, she kept her identity a secret for a long time. She was a modest woman, or that’s how I found her. She loved books and reading and at some point it occurred to her that most of us had limited means and she wanted to reward us for her enjoyment of reading. Without fanfare, without fuss, without adding his name to the price. After a while, I think she understood how much we wanted to be able to tell her in person what her gift meant. Jann came out of her self-imposed anonymity and met us all. She was a warm, eloquent woman who wore brightly colored clothes and loved to talk.

About a year ago, I was among a group of former Jann Medlicott Acorn Fiction Book Award winners who were invited to lunch with her in Tauranga. She knew she was on borrowed time, but she was lively and gave a great speech. It had given her joy to share time with us, she said. Well Jann gave us joy and more and I will be forever grateful to her. Farewell to a remarkably generous woman.

Becky Manawatu, winner of the 2020 award: When Jann Medlicott invited a group of authors, readers, literary enthusiasts and friends to Tauranga for a special lunch, it must have been another expression of her dazzling generosity. Not only were champagne flutes – or whatever drink we wanted – put in our hands as we entered the Tauranga Club, but Jann’s charm and wit filled the room. She wore on these amazing pink Doc Martin ankle boots, and a jacket with pink flowers and sequins. She was laughing and hugging each of us fiercely. I remember I had also chosen something glittery, as well as a leather miniskirt. Jann and I thought we looked great. She wanted us each to talk, then she got up and shared a generous and moving story about who she was, and of course that included her love of stories.

The morning before lunch, I was sitting with my coffee worrying about a present for Jann. It was too late to try to figure out what to bring her. But how could I arrive without something? All I had was west coast honey. It wasn’t enough. I got mad at myself, and finally remembered why Jann had invited us all to Tauranga.

It was April 18, the day my mom lights a candle every year and usually texts me saying she did, reminding me to light one too. So I sat down with my coffee and wrote Jann a long letter, telling her a story, and gave it to her with the honey for lunch. She emailed me about a week later, thanking me. Ka nui te mihi ki a koe, Jann. Rest in Aroha, we cherish you.

Whiti Hereaka, winner of the 2022 award: Jann was a generous supporter of writers and literature in Aotearoa, but she was also a generous reader of our work. I guess I was still in a daze after the awards when we chatted. Luckily Jann saved us from the doldrums of small talk discussing my book. There are people who read and people who READ and Jann struck me as the latter. His comments were the kind writers love: insightful and meaty. She went above and beyond the polite “I enjoyed your book” and we got to talk about the ideas of it, reclaiming voice and space, structure and how she was both new and old, of the tragedy of a bird that cannot sing its own song.

Last night I was at the library in Devonport chatting with Danny Watson. It was one of many events I was invited to following my Ockhams win. We talked about pūrākau and the power of history to connect us – even when it seems like we’re too far apart. I think Jann recognized how valuable it is. His support of our writers and our stories is something to celebrate. Nga mihi, Jann. I am honored and grateful to have met you.

Rosetta Allan, of the Crystal Arts Trust: I had spoken with Jann just two weeks ago, and she mentioned that there had been a complication in the treatment. I assumed it was something that would be ironed out and wished him well.

Soul mates, she called us, and we were. We immediately clicked when I finally met Jann in person at the 2022 Book Awards. She was a woman of wit, intelligence and strength. She quickly seated me next to her in the front row for the awards ceremony, and I was unceremoniously ushered to the next row, not being important enough to be entitled to that precious seat next door. of my new friend. We laughed, even though I was embarrassed, and she was a little miffed.

Then the Q Bar overflowed with celebrations and commiserations from the book-writing industry. Once again, Jann, her best friend Chris, and I found ourselves happily on the outskirts where we could talk about all things literary and the need for private philanthropy for the arts as film crews bypassed us for the beautiful crowd in the middle. They really don’t know who they’re running into, I thought. But that didn’t faze Jann at all.

Paula Morris, New Zealand Academy of Literature: It’s no surprise that Jann didn’t want any fuss or memorial after his death. She was a woman without sufficiency. For the past few years I’ve sat with her at the Ockham NZ Book Awards: she bristled with excited anticipation. When the writers on stage read from their books, I felt her joy and enthusiasm. Sometimes she whispered guesses and opinions about the winners of various categories. She loved books and loved being part of these celebrations.

Jann was a woman of action and a woman of strong opinions. After this year’s ceremony, and at lunch with Jann, her friend Chris and Nicola Legat the next day, we talked about glaring omissions from the long list of fiction (Jann loved Rosetta Allan’s Crazy Love). I didn’t think this lunch would be our last meeting. She was generous, warm and intelligent. I will miss his hugs and his nonsense. We need more women like Jann.

Nicola Legat, Chair of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa: In May, the day after this year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, Paula Morris and I took Jann Medlicott to lunch at Ahi. Jann was on her feet, as she always has been since becoming patron of the Fiction Prize, from Bay of Plenty for the awards ceremony and then a few days in Auckland. She was so good and lively and enjoyed our long chatty lunch so much.

When we left the restaurant, she said something like, “If I never come back to this event again, I’ll still be happy the award went exactly as I hoped.

It was a premonition that her cancer would come back and that this time she wouldn’t beat it. And it was a reflection on the big event in our annual literary calendar that the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction has become. This year was almost the pinnacle of that: the four finalists reading their hearts, then the winner, Whiti Hereaka, on the microphone in her glorious feather dress, and in the next few days all over the media.

In 2015, when Jann first approached the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, following an approach on her behalf by the Acorn Foundation to New Zealand creative literature advisor Jill Rawnsley, the award event prices was in trouble. It had just lost sponsor, NZ Post, and with only the support of Creative New Zealand to count on in the future, it looked very bleak. Jann’s incredible offer of the Fiction Prize – which in its first year was $50,000 (it’s been indexed to the CPI at its whim ever since) – was a major boost.

Jann was a wonderful and insightful reader, she always read the whole long list and she almost always picked the winner. She cared immensely about these writers and her impact on the six winners over the years since Stephen Daisley was the first recipient has been enormous. Sure, getting that much money is amazing, but it’s more than that – it’s the spike in book sales coming, the profile, the trust.

Jann’s death does not mean the end of all this. Incredibly, she arranged, via the Acorn Foundation, for the award to be given in perpetuity. For life! There will be many more overwhelmed novelists and short story writers in front of the Ockhams’ microphone, clutching their tassels and losing their words. Each year, we will remember her and her extraordinary and visionary act of generosity. Be blessed, Jann.


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