Renee Taylor (writer)

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Renée Gertrude Taylor, ONZM (born 1929), is a feminist writer and playwright from New Zealand. Renée is of Māori (Ngāti Kahungunu), Irish, English, and Scottish ancestry. She is known mononymously as Renée.[1] Renée has described herself as a lesbian feminist with socialist working-class ideals.[2] She wrote her first play Setting the Table in 1981. Many of her plays have been published, with extracts included in Intimate Acts, a collection of lesbian plays published by Brito and Lair, New York.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Renée was born in Napier, New Zealand. She attended Greenmeadows School in Hawke's Bay.

I liked school. I got a lot of approval there. Except when it came to sport. I was uninterested. I preferred to read...My interest in theatre started at school. They used to have a concert every year. The first half would be items by individuals or groups and the second half would be a play. I was in two or three plays and I loved it. I loved being someone else even if it was only for a short time.[4]

Renée left school at the age of 12 to work in the local woollen mills and then a printing factory.[5]

In 1979, Renée completed a Bachelor of Arts at Auckland University. Completed over ten years, much of her B.A. was gained through extramural study from Massey University.


Renée is a pioneering figure for women in the New Zealand theatre landscape. Fellow New Zealand playwright, Lorae Parry, has said:

Renée opened the stage door and strode in, announcing her arrival and standing centre stage. She opened the door with a bang, not with a whimper and many of us followed. It was time. Someone needed to do it. Renée had the guts.[6]

Renée began writing short stories, reviews and humorous columns for newspapers when her three children were young. She also began acting in the Napier Repertory Theatre. For twenty years she directed plays for a number of theatrical groups and schools in the Hawke's Bay area.

Renee's attendance at the United Women's Convention in Wellington in 1975 was an important experience. The convention enabled her to recognise that "...a lot of the things I thought and felt resentful about were things other women thought and felt too."[7] A feminist perspective became an important part of her theatre work and writing from that point onwards.

In 1979, Renée relocated to Auckland to complete her B.A. at the University of Auckland. During this time, she worked as a cleaner at Auckland's Theatre Corporate. Six years later, she returned to Theatre Corporate as Playwright in Residence. Following her graduation, Renée worked at a secondary school teaching English and Drama. Renée began writing her first play Setting The Table on New Year's Day in 1981, the first draft of which was completed in five days. In a 1982 interview with New Zealand feminist magazine Broadsheet, Renée said she “wanted to write a play that showed women as intelligent, humourous and strong. I wanted to write a play with very good parts for women — that also put forward some political themes.”[8]

Renée went on to many write plays which feature women in leading roles and humanise working-class people.[9]

Renée was invited to attend the First International Women Playwrights Conference in New York in October 1988.[10] She was one of three keynote speakers. She also attended the Pacific Writers Conference in London and took part of in a reading tour of Britain and Europe.

Renée has been described as "one of the 'first wave' of waahine playwrights"[11] whose representation of female characters showed the complexity of Māori women’s lives and more accurately represented their varied life experiences.

Of her background, Renée has said:

My upbringing and conditioning is largely European, but I have an instinctive love of Māori ritual. Even though I don’t understand the language, I feel at home. But I also feel that because of my upbringing, I’ll always be an outsider in both worlds. It’s got a lot to do with class, too – my roots are rural. Sometimes I feel alienated from the European world, and sometimes from the Māori world; because I sometimes feel inadequate in both of them.[12]

Renée chose to use only her first name as her professional name "simply because it was the name her mother gave her, and the only one she really felt was hers." Of this decision she has said, "I didn't realise I was making a political statement but that's how it is seen, I think."[1]

Some of Renée's best known plays form a trilogy, beginning with Wednesday to Come (1985) which shows the effect on a family of the 1930s Great Depression in New Zealand. The characters in Wednesday to Come include three generations of women in one family. Pass It On (1986) follows the two children in Wednesday to Come now that they have grown up and married. It celebrates the role of working class women in the 1951 New Zealand waterfront dispute. Jeannie Once (1991), is a prequel to Wednesday to Come in that it focusses on the past of Wednesday to Come's Granna and her life as a seamstress in Victorian Dunedin. One of the characters in Jeannie Once is a Māori servant, Martha, who ends up being committed to an asylum. Jeannie Once features elements of Music Hall.

In October 2017, Renée published a memoir entitled These Two Hands, published by Mākaro Press.[13]


In the 2006 Queen's Birthday Honours, Renée was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature and drama.[14]

  • 1986 Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council Literary Fund Playwrights Award
  • 1989 Roberts Burns Fellow, University of Otago[15]
  • 2013 Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi Awards, Ngā Tohu ā Tā Kingi Ihaka | Sir Kingi Ihaka Awards recognising lifetime contribution[16]
  • 2017 Playmarket Award, a $20,000 prize recognising a playwright who has made a significant artistic contribution to theatre in New Zealand[17]
  • 2018 Fiction Award, New Zealand Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement[18]


  • 1981 Setting the Table
  • 1982 Secrets
  • 1982 Breaking Out
  • 1982 What Did You Do in the War, Mummy? Broadsheet revue
  • 1983 Dancing
  • 1983 The MCP Show
  • 1983 Asking for It Broadsheet revue
  • 1985 Wednesday to Come
  • 1985 Groundwork
  • 1986 Pass It On
  • 1987 Born to Clean
  • 1990 Touch of the Sun
  • 1990 Missionary Position
  • 1991 Jeannie Once
  • 1992 Tiggy Tiggy Touch Wood
  • 1993 Form
  • 1993 Heroines, Hussies and High, High Flyers
  • 2010 Shall We Gather at the River

Dates Unknown: Pink Spots and Mountain Tops, Dreaming in Ponsonby, Te Pouaka (The Glass Box),


  • 1987 Finding Ruth[19]
  • 1990 Willy Nilly[20]
  • 1993 Daisy and Lily[21]
  • 1995 Does This Make Sense to You?[22]
  • 1997 The Snowball Waltz[23]
  • 1997 I Have to Go Home[24]
  • 2002 The Skeleton Woman: A Romance[25]
  • 2005 Kissing Shadows[26]


  1. ^ a b Pollard, Suzanne (17 April 1986). "Renee digs deeper than history books". The Dominion.
  2. ^ [1] New Zealand Book Council. Retrieved 9 November 2009
  3. ^ Intimate Acts: Eight Contemporary Lesbian Plays. Brito & Lair. 1997. ISBN 0964623013.
  4. ^ The Dominion. 9 July 1985. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Song of the Shirt. Dunedin, New Zealand: McIndoe Publishers. 1993. ISBN 0868681342.
  6. ^ Parry, Lorae (Autumn 2005). "Meat and Potatoes". Playmarket News (35): 6.
  7. ^ Hall, Sandi (April 1982). "Writing The Wrongs". Broadsheet: 33.
  8. ^ "Document viewer - Broadsheet". Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  9. ^ "Renée". Playmarket. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  10. ^ "Renee invited to US meeting". The Evening Post. 30 October 1987.
  11. ^ Te-Puea Hansen, Mei-Lin (2005). "Aroha's Granddaughters: Representations of Maaori Women in Maaori Drama and Theatre 1980 – 2000". Thesis.
  12. ^ Hall, Sandi (22 December 1995). New Zealand Times. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "These Two Hands: a memoir by Renée | Mākaro Press". Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  14. ^ Queen's Birthday Honours List 2006, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
  15. ^ "The Robert Burns Fellowship – previous recipients since the Fellowship was established". Otago Fellows. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  16. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ "Renée wins the 2017 Playmarket Award | Playmarket". Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  18. ^ Ardern, Rt Hon Jacinda (8 October 2018). "Awards recognise literary legends". NZ Government. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  19. ^ Taylor, Renée (1987). Finding Ruth. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann. ISBN 0868636924.
  20. ^ Taylor, Renée (1990). Willy Nilly. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin. ISBN 0140131426.
  21. ^ Taylor, Renee (1993). Daisy & Lily. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140232184.
  22. ^ Taylor, Renée (1995). Does this make sense to you?. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Books. ISBN 014024946X.
  23. ^ Taylor, Renée (1997). The Snowball Waltz. 1997: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140268855.
  24. ^ Taylor, Renée (1997). I Have to Go Home. Auckland, New Zealand: Puffin. ISBN 0140386343.
  25. ^ Taylor, Renée (2002). The Skeleton Woman: A Romance. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia Publishers. ISBN 1877283169.
  26. ^ Taylor, Renee (2005). Kissing Shadows. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia Publishers. ISBN 1869692039.