Michael James Terence Morrissey (born 1942) is a New Zealand poet, short story writer, novelist, editor, feature article writer, book reviewer and columnist. He is the author of thirteen volumes of poetry, two collections of short stories, a memoir, two stage plays and four novels and he has edited five other books.
Michael Morrissey was educated at St Peter's College, Auckland and studied law and English literature at the University of Auckland. In 1967, he was the editor of Craccum, the University of Auckland student newspaper. In the 1970s, he began publishing short stories in Islands and Mate and later contributed stories and poems to literary journals such as Landfall, Morepork, Climate, Poetry New Zealand, Trout, Listener, Pilgrims, Rambling Jack, Printout, brief, Bravado, Comment, Echoes, Tango, Cornucopia, IKA, Takahe, Phantom Billstickers, (New Zealand); Blackmail, Trout (New Zealand online), Ocarina, Literary Half Yearly (India); New Poetry, Poetry Australia, Mattoid, Inprint (Australia); Gargoyle, Fiction International, Chelsea (United States); Percutio (France); Kunapipi (Denmark).
Michael Morrissey has published five books of fiction and 13 books of poetry.
In 1979, he was the first Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury and in 1985, the first New Zealand participant in the International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa from which he earned an Honorary Fellowship in Writing. In 1986, he was the New Zealand delegate at the 48th World Congress of International PEN in New York. While in New York, Morrissey met many famous writers. Subsequently, he wrote obituaries based on personal encounters with Saul Bellow (7 May 2005), Kurt Vonnegut (28 April 2007) and Norman Mailer (1 December 2007) – all published in the New Zealand Listener. He has also written accounts of encounters with Samuel Beckett and Susan Sontag, published in Brief magazine.
A Fulbright Cultural Travel Award in 1981 enabled him to visit several leading American universities where he studied the teaching of creative writing. On his return to New Zealand, he founded the Waiheke Summer Writing School which ran from 1983 to 1991. He has taught creative writing through several Community Education Centres, and Continuing Education, University of Auckland, and was a tutor at the New Zealand Institute of Business Studies, Auckland between 2008 and 2010.
In 2012, he was appointed Writer-in-Residence at the University of Waikato.
His anthology The New Fiction (1985) was the first anthology of New Zealand postmodern fiction. His 80 plus published short stories vary from neo-social realism to surreal and postmodern styles and also deploy the introduction of famous personalities into the New Zealand landscape such as Jack Kerouac, Charles Fort, Andy Warhol and Franz Kafka. His fiction has been translated into Mandarin, Japanese and Hungarian.
A short film by Costa Botes of one of Morrissey's stories, Stalin's Sickle, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, in France, in 1988.
Morrissey's novel, Tropic of Skorpeo, published in 2012, is a satiric sci-fi fantasy in thriller mode.
Since 1992, Morrissey has been a regular reader at Poetry Live Auckland (a weekly poetry reading set up by poet David Mitchell in 1980 and held at Auckland's Thirsty Dog). The poems he read at those events have been published in the Poetry Live Auckland anthologies. He has also read at Lopdell House Gallery's Rhythm and Verse events.
Morrissey's memoir, Taming the Tiger (2011) documents his experiences with bipolar disorder, graphically describing two serious bipolar episodes and his forced hospitalisation. These episodes and Morrissey's mania were the subject of a feature-length documentary, Daytime Tiger, directed by Costa Botes, which premiered at the [New Zealand international film festival in 2011. An abridgement of Taming the Tiger in five episodes was read on RNZ National Radio on 23–27 July 2012.
In his extended essay on Morrissey's poetry in Poetry New Zealand in 2008, poet and critic John Horrocks  described the range of Morrissey's verse, noting also that "one of the pleasures of reading these poems is the variety of personae assumed by the poet. This reflects an underlying energy that emerges in startling ways". Horrocks writes "The venturings in these poems are like those ... of the nameless principal of Henry Miller's novel Sexus. There is the same intentness and curiosity about ideas, the writer's licence to draw anything into consideration ... These are some of the reasons why Michael Morrissey's poetry stands apart". Horrocks says that Morrissey's collection Dreams "disturbs as it taps into the familiar territory of dreams: journeys, being trapped, superheroes, erotic encounters, sudden transformations, capricious authority figures and various kinds of death. These are extraordinary poems". Horrocks notes that Morrissey's development as a poet was influenced by Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath, and later by Curnow, Tony Beyer and Ian Wedde. Horrocks likens Morrissey's poetry variously to Kafka, Ginsberg, Miller and, especially Walt Whitman.
Critic Jack Ross  notes that Morrissey's "fictions ranged from the Barthelme-like fables of The Fat Lady & The Astronomer (1981) to the gentle postmodernism of Doctorow's Ragtime in his classic story Jack Kerouac Sat Down beside the Wanganui River & Wept ... Paradise to Come (1997), his book of two novellas describing New Zealand's most distant and most recent waves of immigration, remains Morrissey's most accomplished and moving fiction to date". Ross also expresses his admiration for Morrissey's "... earlier works ... where a basic sense of Sargesonian realism underlies his taste for the extravagant and postmodern" Those earlier works, Ross notes, include "most of the contents of his two books of short stories, ... as well as the three novellas".
"Michael Morrissey has written a brave, funny account of his mental illness. It begins when he has a breakdown while teaching a writing class – the sort of outburst that could easily be passed off as someone having a bad day. In his case, however, it seems no time at all before he is convinced he has AIDS, develops a way to end crime by holding neighbourhood parties, and comes up with a scheme to make millions by encouraging people to get naked on Waiheke – like that's hard. Finally, he is convinced he is the messiah and wrestles with the tricky question of whether or not to tell people. Lithium comes into play and he slowly returns to normal. Then follows a cycle of feeling well, going off medication and becoming ill again. He learns in the course of dealing with his own illness that his mother suffered from the same complaint and that her mother had died in an asylum. It's a heart-rending and harrowing account, made compellingly readable by Morrissey's formidable literary skills, which have seldom been put to such good use. The objectivity of his self-portrait is remarkable but the real hero is his wife, Anne. He didn't have any choice about living with his condition. She did, and chose to stay, which can't have been easy when he decided she was a demon he had to destroy. ..... [This] is such a raw and thorough examination of a not uncommon condition. The author's stoicism brings to mind the last words of Samuel Beckett’s The Unnameable: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.' It deserves a prominent place in the annals not just of literature about mental health but of New Zealand autobiography".
Representation in anthologies
Morrissey's short stories have been widely anthologised, including in All the Dangerous Animals Are in Zoos (1981), New Zealand Writing Since 1945 (1983), I Have Seen the Future (1986), Metro Fiction (1987), Antipodes New Writing (1987), Short Story International (1987), Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories (1989), The Oxford Book of New Zealand Short Stories (1992), The Faber Book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories (1994), Rutherford's Dreams (1995), Essential New Zealand Short Stories (2002 and 2009).
His poems have also been widely anthologised. Poems by Morrissey appear in The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry (edited by Miriama Evans, Harvey McQueen and Ian Wedde (1989)), 100 New Zealand Poems (edited by Bill Manhire (1993)), Big Weather: Poems of Wellington. (selected by Gregory O’Brien and Louise White (2000)), 121 New Zealand Poems (chosen by Bill Manhire (2005)), the New Zealand Poetry Society's anthology Ice Diver (2011), Poetry New Zealand (2008), the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook (2020) and Live Lines. the series of anthologies of Poetry Live Auckland.
Creative writing classes
Morrissey taught creative writing over many years. In 1983, he set up the annual Waiheke Writing School on Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf. He ran that school until 1991. Other tutors in the Waiheke school included the novelist Mike Johnson, script writer Neil Illingworth and the novelist and poet Daphne de Jong, author of 75 romance novels. Among the alumni of the Waiheke programme is food writer Annabel Langbein. Morrissey also taught creative writing in the University of Auckland’s continuing education programme.
Between 2000 and 2013, Michael Morrissey contributed a monthly book review column to Investigate magazine (since renamed and reformatted as HIS/HERS). He has also reviewed books for Listener, Landfall, Islands, The Sunday Star-Times, the New Zealand Herald, The Press, Printout, and Quote Unquote.
Book launch incident
The launch of Morrissey's novella Terra Incognita 1526 on 12 June 1997 led to violence and four arrests. The novella told the story of the (fictional) arrival in New Zealand in 1526, of a Spanish ship. The ship's crew of conquistadores made friends with the Māori they encountered and helped them fight a rival iwi. Morrissey organised a re-enactment of the Spaniards’ arrival in New Zealand, the greeting of them by local Māori.
Auckland novelist Graeme Lay, who attended the launch, described the incident in New Zealand Books Vol 28 No. 4 Issue 124. He wrote that a 53-foot boat was hired from the Maritime Museum. An historical hobbyist group called the Knights Draconis was recruited to play the conquistadores. A group from the Hoani Waititi Marae were hired to play the local Māori warriors.
Lay wrote: “... right on cue, there appeared the long boat, crammed with Spaniards, their helmets gleaming in the winter sunshine. The crowd buzzed with expectation. A Māori sentry blew a conch to signal the arrival of the strangers. ... But the war party did not appear... Instead, a solitary, bare-chested Maori man descended to the beach ... wielding a taiaha. As the ... Spaniards disembarked, the man rushed forward and began attacking them with his staff. The crowd was at first impressed; this was very realistic theatre. When the man began to whack the visitors more wildly, we became uneasy. ... Helmets flew off, blood spurted from the Spaniards’ noses. This was not in the script ...”
The attacker also lunged at Morrissey who then called the police.
Graeme Lay reports that Morrissey recalled that he had been contacted by a kuia (whom he later learned was the veteran activist Titewhai Harawira) several days before the event to express concern about the launch. He had not acted on that warning. Lay quotes Morrissey as saying that his dismissive response may have led to the assault on the event.
Lay wrote: “Before the police arrived, the crowd on the foreshore became angry. Several of the Spaniards had been injured. People in the crowd ... were condemnatory of [the assault]. .... So, the launch of Terra Incognita 1526 turned out to be a lamentation more than a celebration. Books were bought, more in sympathy than enthusiasm. Nevertheless, 60 copies were sold at the launch, and extensive media coverage of the assault ensured that many more copies were sold after that”.
Lay reports that the assailant, Arthur Harawira - Titewhai Harawira's son - told the television news “’If you say the Spaniards conquered us then you can take it up somewhere else.’ Morrissey thinks: ‘Harawira believed my book was a work of history, not a novel’”. Lay concluded “They don't launch them like that anymore”.
The launch of Terra Incognita 1526 wasn't Morrissey's only attention-grabbing book launch; he once invited all the people he could track down with the name “Michael Morrissey” to the launch of one of his poetry books.
- Make Love in All the Rooms (1978), Caveman Press, Dunedin. ISBN 0 908562 75 6
- Closer to the Bone (1981), Sword Press, Christchurch. ISBN 0 9597596 0 3
- She's Not the Child of Sylvia Plath (1981), Sword Press, Christchurch. ISBN 0-9597596-1-1
- Dreams, (1981), Sword Press, Christchurch. ISBN 0-9597596-3-8
- Taking in the View (1986), Auckland University Press. ISBN 1-86940-004-6
- New Zealand – What Went Wrong? (1988), Van Guard Xpress, Auckland. ISBN 0-908836-02-3
- Dr Strangelove's Prescription (1988), Van Guard Xpress, Auckland. ISBN 0-908836-03-1
- A Case of Briefs (1989), Van Guard Xpress, Auckland. ISBN 0-908836-01-5
- The American Hero Loses His Tie (1989), Van Guard Xpress, Auckland. ISBN 0-908836-04-X
- From the Swimming Pool Question (2006), Zenith Publishing. ISBN 1-877365-36-X
- Memory Gene Pool (2012), Cold Hub Press, Governors Bay. ISBN 978-0-473-21916-1
- Poems from Hotel Middlemore (2018), Cold Hub Press, Governors Bay ISBN 978-0473-43853-1
- Poems about Iris the Coronavirus (2020), Aries Press, Auckland ISBN 978-0-473-52114-1
- The Fat Lady & The Astronomer (1981) Sword Press, Christchurch. ISBN 0 9597596 2 X
- Octavio's Last Invention (1991), Brick Row Publishing, Auckland. ISBN 0-908595-52-2
- Paradise to Come (1997), Flamingo, Auckland. ISBN 1 86950 252 3 – containing: Terra Incognita 1526 and Captain Nemo's Child
- Heart of the Volcano (2000), BookCaster Press, Auckland, ISBN 0 473 06844 3
- The New Fiction (1985), Lindon Publishing, Auckland. ISBN 0-86470-016-4
- The Globe Tapes (1985) (with Mike Johnson and Rosemary Menzies), Hard Echo Press, Auckland. ISBN 0-908715-15-3
- New Zealand's Top 10 (1993), Moa Beckett, ISBN 1-86958-013-3
- The Flamingo Anthology of New Zealand Short Stories (2000), Flamingo, Auckland. ISBN 1-86950-335-X
- The Flamingo Anthology of New Zealand Short Stories – Extended Edition, (2004), Flamingo, Auckland. ISBN 1 86950 496 8
- Come Here Beethoven (1979). Performed at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch and the University of Otago, Dunedin.
- Exorcisms (1979). Performed at Theatre Corporate, Auckland.
Fiction anthology appearances
- All The Dangerous Animals Are in Zoos (1981)
- New Zealand Writing Since 1945 (1983)
- New Zealand Short Stories (4th Series) (1984)
- Listener Short Stories 3 (1984)
- The New Fiction (1985)
- I Have Seen the Future (1986)
- Metro Fiction (1987)
- Antipodes New Writing (1987)
- Short Story International (1987)
- Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories (1989)
- Tabasco Sauce and Ice Cream (1990)
- The Oxford Book of New Zealand Short Stories (1992)
- Faber Book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories (1994)
- Rutherford's Dreams (1995)
- Beethoven's Ears (1995)
- 100 NZ Short Stories (1997)
- Flamingo Anthology of New Zealand Short Stories (2000)
- Author's Choice (2001)
- Essential New Zealand Short Stories (2002)
- Flamingo Anthology of New Zealand Short Stories Extended edition (2004)
- Sunday 22 (2006)
- Essential New Zealand Short Stories Second Edition (2009)
- 46 by 44 (2009)
Poetry anthology appearances
- Bright But Invisible edited by Jeremy Bartlett (1978)
- Te Awamutu Festival of the Arts (1979)
- The International Portland Review (1980)
- The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry edited by Miriama Evans, Harvey McQueen and Ian Wedde (1989)
- Frosted Rails edited by Harry Ricketts and Janette Stace (1990)
- Auckland Live (1992)
- 100 New Zealand Poems edited by Bill Manhire (1993)
- Below the Surface: Protests at French Testing on Mururoa edited by Ambury Hall (1995)
- Big Weather: Poems of Wellington edited by Gregory O’Brien and Louise White (2000)
- Poems Selected by Lauris Edmond and Bill Sewell (2001)
- Spirit in a Strange Land: A Selection of New Zealand Spiritual Verse edited by Paul Morris, Harry Ricketts and Mike Grimshaw (2002)
- 121 New Zealand Poems edited by Bill Manhire (2005)
- Shards of Silver edited by Paul Thompson (2006)
- Poetry New Zealand 37 edited by Owen Bullock (2008)
- Auckland in Poetry, Just Another Anthology edited by Stu Bagby (2008)
- Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones (2009)
- Broadsheet 6 edited by Mark Pirie (2010)
- Live Lines Volume III (2010)
- Ice Diver New Zealand Poetry Society (2011)
- Live Lines Volume IV (2011)
- Poems 4 Peace edited by Gus Simonovic (2014)
- The Unexpected Greenness of Trees Caselberg Trust International Poetry Competition (2016)
- Forty Years of Titirangi Poets edited by Ron Riddell (2017)
- Cutting Through edited by Melanie Wittwer, Amanda Eason, Rachel Hughes, Robert Moore (2018)
- Poetry New Zealand Yearbook edited by Johanna Emeney (2020)
- This Twilight Menagerie - Poetry Live (2021)
- The Ultimate Reader of Love for the Book edited by Bill Direen (2021)
- MacMillan Brown Prize (1977)
- Writer's Bursary (1977)
- Writer-in-Residence – University of Canterbury (1979)
- Tom-Gallon Trust Award (1979)
- Fulbright Cultural Travel Award (1981)
- PEN Best First Book of Prose Award (1982)
- Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition (1984)
- Lilian Ida Smith Poetry Award (1986)
- Writer-in-Residence – University of Waikato (2012)
Morrissey was also awarded major project grants by Creative New Zealand in 1993 and 1998.
An extended interview with Michael Morrissey can be found in Landfall 146. There is an account of Morrissey's career in the Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature. while Morrissey's fiction is the subject of an extended essay by Lawrence Jones in his book Barbed Wire & Mirrors Essays on New Zealand Prose. An interesting perspective of the diversity of Morrissey's writing and his career can be found in Jack Ross' blog Imaginary Museum http://mairangibay.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/two-writers-2-michael-morrissey.html. Morrissey was interviewed by Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand about his memoir Taming the Tiger on 28 May 2011.
- "Daytime Tiger". 1 July 2011 – via IMDb.
- Horrocks, John (2008), "Truth telling: Michael Morrissey's poetry", Poetry NZ 37, Puriri Press and Brick Row, Auckland
- Ross, Jack (2012) The Imaginary Museum
- Little, Paul New Zealand Books, North & South, November 2011
- Lay Graeme (2018) Is the book launch dead? New Zealand Books Vol 28 No. 4 Issue 124
- Olson, Suzanne (1983), Michael Morrissey interviewed, Landfall 146, Caxton, Christchurch
- Robinson, Roger and Wattie, Nelson (1998) Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, Oxford
- Jones, Lawrence (1987), "Michael Morrissey and Postmodernism: A Day at the Fiction Picnic" in Barbed Wire & Mirrors: Essays on New Zealand Prose University of Otago Press, ISBN 0-908569-39-4.