Joy Cowley

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Joy Cowley
Black and white photo of Joy Cowley smiling
Cowley, probably before 1987
Born Cassia Joy Summers
(1936-08-07) 7 August 1936 (age 80)
Levin, New Zealand
Pen name Joy Cowley
Occupation Writer
Language English
Nationality New Zealand
Ethnicity New Zealand European (Scottish/Irish/Swedish/Danish)[1]
Education D.Litt (honorary)
Alma mater Massey University
Period 1967–present
  • Ted Cowley (c. 1956–1967)
  • Malcolm Mason (1970–1985)
  • Terry Coles (1989–present)
  • Sharon
  • Edward
  • Judith
  • James

Cassia Joy Cowley DCNZM OBE (née Summers; born 7 August 1936) is a New Zealand author best known for her children's fiction.[2][3][4]

She started out writing novels for adults, and her first book, Nest in a Fallen Tree (1967), was adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl. It became the 1971 film The Night Digger. Following its success in the United States, Cowley wrote several other novels, including Man of Straw (1972), Of Men and Angels (1972), The Mandrake Root (1975), and The Growing Season (1979). Typical themes of these works were marital infidelity, mental illness, and death, as experienced within families. Cowley has also published several collections of short stories, including Two of a Kind (1984) and Heart Attack and Other Stories (1985).

Today she is best known for children's books, such as The Silent One (1981), which was made into a 1985 film. Others include Bow Down Shadrach (1991) and its sequel, Gladly, Here I Come (1994).

She has written forty-one picture books, such The Duck in the Gun (1969), The Terrible Taniwha of Timberditch (1982), Salmagundi (1985), and The Cheese Trap (1995). The Duck in the Gun and Salmagundi are explicitly anti-war books. She has been actively involved in teaching early reading skills and helping those with reading difficulties, in which capacity she has written approximately 500 basal readers (termed reading books in New Zealand).[citation needed]

Honours and awards[edit]

Cowley was awarded a 1990 Commemoration Medal for services to New Zealand, and in 1992 she was awarded an OBE for services to children's literature.[4][5] The following year she was granted an honorary doctorate (D.Litt) from Massey University, and was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal.[1][4] In the 2005 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Cowley was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DCNZM) for services to children's literature.[6]

In 1993, Cowley became the third recipient of the Margaret Mahy Award, whose winners present and publish a lecture concerning children's literature or literacy.[7][8] Cowley's lecture was titled Influences.[8] The award is presented by the Storylines Childrens Literature Charitable Trust, who established the Joy Cowley Award in 2002, in recognition of the "exceptional contribution Joy Cowley makes to both children's literature and literacy in New Zealand and internationally".[8][9] In 2004, she became a patron of the Storylines Childrens Literature Foundation, and she is one of Storylines' trustees.[1][4] At least one of her books has been on the Storylines Notable Books List every year since it was established in 2000, other than 2009 and 2011 (in 2012 she was given a "special mention").[4][10]

In 2002, she was awarded the Roberta Long Medal, presented by the University of Alabama at Birmingham for culturally diverse children's literature.[1][4][11] In 2004, she was awarded the A. W. Reed Award for Contribution to New Zealand Literature, and in 2010, she won the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement in the Fiction category.[4]

Cowley has won the overall Book of the Year award three times at the various incarnations of the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards: first for The Silent One in 1982; then for Hunter in 2006; and finally for Snake and Lizard in 2008.[4][12] The latter two books were entered into the Junior Fiction category, in which she also won the category award for her books Ticket to the Sky Dance in 1998, Starbright and the Dream Eater in 1999, and Shadrach Girl in 2001.[4] Cowley also won the Children's Choice award in this category for Friends: Snake and Lizard in 2010.[4] She won the now defunct Fiction category in 1992 for Bow Down Shadrach, and the Picture Book category in 2002 for Brodie.[4] An additional five of her books have been short-listed as finalists in the Picture Book category at the awards, and an additional three in the Junior Fiction category.[4]

Cowley's book The Video Shop Sparrow was included in the 2000 White Ravens List, administered by the International Youth Library, and five of her books have been finalists for the Esther Glen Award from 1995 to 2010.[4] She won Best Script Television Drama at the 1994 TV Guide Television Awards for Mother Tongue, a 52-minute film shot in 1992, and set in 1953, about an 18-year-old couple who fall in love – though the woman (played by Sarah Smuts-Kennedy) is Catholic, and the man (played by Craig Parker) is Jewish.[1][13][14][15]

Personal life[edit]

Cowley has been married three times,[1] first at twenty years old to dairy farmer Ted Cowley, with whom she had four children: Sharon, Edward, Judith and James.[1] After their marriage ended in 1967, Cowley married Malcolm Mason, a Wellington writer and accountant who died in 1985.[1] In 1989, Cowley married her current husband, Terry Coles.[1] She lived with him, and an assortment of animals, for many years in the Marlborough Sounds, but in 2004 they moved to a wharf apartment in Wellington so Coles could be nearer medical services.[1] As Coles' health deteriorated, Wellington's stairs and traffic became too much for him, and the couple moved again to Featherston, where Cowley now lives.[1] She has 13 grandchildren and is still writing full-time.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1999 a VHS about Cowley, her life, and work as a children's writer was published by Wright Group.[16] Called A Day Full of Joy, it was presented by the author and featured her reading one of her picture books, The Meanies Come to School, to an audience of children, interspersed with CGI renderings of the characters in the story. Elsewhere in the video, Cowley talks about her life with her animals in the Marlborough Sounds and her childhood, and answers questions about her creative process. In 2017 the video was selected as a pick for "Best of the Worst",[17] a feature on RedLetterMedia's YouTube channel where obscure video releases are watched, ridiculed, and rated based on which stands out as the highest quality or most enjoyable production.

RLM regular Jay Bauman criticised Cowley, saying that he "might hate her more than anyone ever" and describing the video as an "ego project". He also called her children's books "the worst f------ things ever", before fellow regular Rich Evans and founder Mike Stoklasa made fun of the repetitive nature of the book Joy reads in the video, which typically repeats a sentence three times (i.e. "The Meanies came to school one day") before adding "guess what happened next?"

Recent publications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Cowley, Joy (10 May 2011). "Joy Cowley: Autobiographical Notes". The official Joy Cowley Website. Featherston, New Zealand: Joy Cowley. OCLC 182891478. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "Sir "too grand by far", Sam Neill says". 3 News. Auckland, New Zealand: MediaWorks. 1 August 2009. OCLC 232357870. Retrieved 29 July 2012. Cassia Joy Cowley, DCNZM, OBE, Wellington 
  3. ^ Cowley, Joy (March 2006). "Interview (extract from Questions Kids Ask Joy Cowley, Scholastic 1996)". The official Joy Cowley Website. Featherston, New Zealand: Joy Cowley. OCLC 182891478. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Joy Cowley". Auckland, New Zealand: Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust of New Zealand. 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Joy Cowley to deliver the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture" (Press release). Creative New Zealand. 26 January 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  6. ^ Morcom, Diane, Secretary and Registrar, The Queen's Service Order (6 June 2005). "The Queens Birthday Honours List 2005". Honours Lists. Wellington, New Zealand: Honours Secretariat, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. OCLC 229108377. Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  7. ^ "Margaret Mahy Medal Award". Christchurch, New Zealand: Christchurch City Libraries. 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c "Margaret Mahy Award". Auckland, New Zealand: Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust of New Zealand. 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  9. ^ "Joy Cowley Award". Auckland, New Zealand: Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust of New Zealand. 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  10. ^ "Notable Books List". Auckland, New Zealand: Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust of New Zealand. 2012. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  11. ^ "Author Awarded Posthumously at UAB" (Press release). University of Alabama at Birmingham. 13 April 2001. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  12. ^ "Searching Awards: New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards (NZ) 1982". Leura, NSW, Australia: Magpies Magazine. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  13. ^ "1994 Winners – TV Guide Television Awards". KIWITV. 3 May 2007. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  14. ^ "Mother Tongue". NG Productions. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  15. ^ "Mother tongue". WorldCat. Dublin, OH: OCLC. OCLC 42004954. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 1 videocassette (52 min.) 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Cowley, Joy. Snake and Lizard. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781877579592. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  19. ^ Cowley, Joy. Friends: Snake and Lizard. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781877467998. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  20. ^ Cowley, Joy; Davis, Sarah. The Fierce Little Woman and the Wicked Pirate. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781877467400. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  21. ^ Cowley, Joy. Stories of the Wild West Gang. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781776570058. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  22. ^ Cowley, Joy. Dunger. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781927271193. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  23. ^ Cowley, Joy. The Speed of Light. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781927271230. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  24. ^ Cowley, Joy. The Bakehouse. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781776570072. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  25. ^ Cowley, Joy. The Road to Ratenburg. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781776571024. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  26. ^ Cowley, Joy. Helper and Helper. Gecko Press. ISBN 9781776571062. Retrieved 16 February 2017. 

External links[edit]