Leading lawyer Pip Muir has a lifelong love of reading and a passion for the arts that have lead to her becoming heavily involved in New Zealand’s literary scene. As Chair of the Auckland Writers Festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Muir has played a major role in helping the event to become a globally recognized celebration of writers and readers. As sponsors of the MitoQ Best First Book Awards at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards (held as part of the Festival), we equally believe in supporting the creative endeavours of writers, in the belief that the arts are essential to the wellbeing of society.
Over the past 20 years, the Auckland Writers Festival has grown to become one of the world’s largest and most-respected literary events, and for the past six years as Chair, Muir has provided a steady hand to guide its progression. “It really is a joy to be part of this wonderful – and successful – organisation. Our Festival is now Australasia’s largest literary event and we look forward to bringing local and international writers, commentators and thinkers to Auckland in May each year,” she says.
Muir juggles her Chair role with a position as a partner at Simpson Grierson Law firm where she heads the employment law group, acting and advising some of New Zealand’s largest corporations, tertiary institutions, and local government bodies.
As if that isn’t enough to inspire you, Muir also juggles this with roles as a mother and wife, and is highly involved in her community, holding a chair position on two other boards and roles in other organisations. She speaks as a guest lecturer at one of New Zealand’s leading Universities and has also co-authored and published two legal texts, Employment Law and Recruitment and Termination.
In fact, it’s amazing we got to speak to her at all. Despite remaining largely out of the spotlight, Muir graciously permitted MitoQ to interview her between time in court, and here she shares with us the origins of her passion for the arts and why she dedicates precious time to supporting New Zealand's literary scene.
An introduction to the arts
Muir’s life-long affinity with the arts began with avid reading in her youth – “JRR Tolkein was a favourite in my school years,” she says – however it wasn’t until she went to University, where she studied dual degrees in Arts and Law, that she says her wider appreciation of the arts was truly formed.
After attending events at the Auckland Writers Festival since its inception 20 years ago, Muir was delighted to be asked to join the Festival's Board of Trustees in 2007. Holding the chair position since 2014, she describes the role as a great honour. “My husband and I are both passionate about theatre, ballet, art and literature and we have been on various arts-related not-for-profit boards over the years. It’s a shared commitment to giving back in the Arts sector.”
Doing more of what you love
With such a high-powered job and so many roles and responsibilities it’s hard to understand how Muir manages to get it all done. She says her central belief that life is much more enjoyable if you can love what you do, has been pivotal.
“I feel very fortunate to be a partner in a law firm with people I trust and enjoy working with. In addition, being part of the Auckland Writers Festival is an absolute pleasure. We have a very supportive Board of Trustees and a dedicated and engaged Festival team (led by Anne O’Brien, our talented Festival Director). We also have wonderful supporters (including longstanding sponsors and patrons) who help to make the Festival viable.”
Festival in bloom
Today, the Auckland Writers Festival has matured into an event that caters to all ages and stages of a writer’s journey. Challenging writers and readers alike to celebrate curiosity, share stories, spark and explore ideas and develop brilliant conversations.
“We hold the Festival annually in May at the Aotea Centre – and last year we had over 83,000 attendees,” Muir says. “Some years ago, we also introduced a Schools programme (which runs for 3 days at the start of the Festival), and approximately 7,000 students have the opportunity to attend and hear inspiring stories from writers and thinkers from around the world. We aim to make the Festival accessible to as many as possible and over a third of our programme is free events, including a free Family day and free ‘street’ event. Hopefully there’s something for everyone at the Festival – and this year’s Festival (which is being launched to the public in early March) is on track to be even better than previous years.”
At MitoQ, we are privileged to be the Sponsors of the MitoQ First Book Award as part of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards at this event, an award that champions first time published authors. Getting started, putting in the work and presenting yourself to the world in the form of a first book can be a terrifying task, but we have a belief in encouraging and supporting people to power their passions.
“The process of writing and publishing a book can be extremely daunting and challenging, so the First Book Award is a tangible way to inspire and champion new writers,” agrees Muir.
We can make a life, Chessie Henry
“[One of the] recipients of this Award in 2019 was Chessie Henry, whose first book “We Can Make a Life”, was a moving portrait of a family coping with the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes. It was also the story of a young writer grappling with a difficult subject matter. I do hope these annual awards are an inspiration to other aspiring writers.”
On New Zealand literature
Pip Muir shares with us a few of the New Zealand books she has most enjoyed or been moved and challenged by over the years...
- “I think Janet Frame’s Owls Do Cry is a seminal text – it was written over 60 years ago, but raises issues that are still relevant today about mental health, family poverty and grief – in fact, we dedicated a session to this important novel in our 2015 Festival.”
- This Mortal Boy by Dame Fiona Kidman
- Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
- The Shag Incident by Stephanie Johnson
- The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi
- Booker Prize Winner The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
- “Oh yes, and where would we be without Linley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary books for our kids?”