New Zealand writer Gigi Fenster
Giovanna (Gigi) Fenster (born 1963/64) is a South African-born New Zealand author, creative writing teacher and law professor.
Fenster was born in South Africa to a Jewish family. Her father was a psychiatrist. One of five children, she describes her home as a “lively, entertaining and emotionally very generous home”. After having two children, her concern for raising them in a society with a high level of violence prompted her to move in 2001 to Wellington, New Zealand, where she became a legal policy analyst at the Commerce Commission.
Fenster still teaches contract law, as well as creative writing at Massey University in Wellington. She was one of the founders of the collective Write Where You Are, which supports writing in prisons, and teaches creative writing at Rimutaka prison.
Fenster has two daughters and in 2015 moved from Wellington to Ōtaki on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast, where she lives with her partner.
Fenster’s writing career began with the encouragement of her younger sister, novelist Rahla Xenopoulos, who had just published her first book. Joining a writing group was for Fenster an antidote to the loneliness she felt after moving to New Zealand. She then did an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington.
Fenster’s debut novel The Intentions Book was published by Victoria University Press in 2012 and was shortlisted in the Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2013, and shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Commonwealth Book Prize . In 2016, she earned a PhD in creative writing from Victoria University of Wellington. Her doctoral thesis was published as a work of creative non-fiction under the title Feverish: A Memoir by Victoria University Press in 2018: it explored creativity, fever and identity.
Fenster’s third novel, a psychological thriller A Good Winter, was a manuscript she wrote in 2016 but abandoned for years “because it refused to go where I wanted it to go.” Encouraged by a friend, poet Mary Macpherson, she submitted it for the 2020 Michael Gifkins Prize for an Unpublished Novel, and won. The prize included a contract for worldwide rights with Australian publisher Text Publishing, as well as an advance of NZ$10,000. A Good Winter was released in September 2021.
A Good Winter’s protagonist, Olga, is an unreliable narrator and an unkind, bitter, and uncompromising character. At the start of the novel, Fenster recounts that she took the advice “First you find your characters. Then you put them in a tree. Then you throw rocks at them”, but Olga’s character was “throwing stones right away”. As a portrait of a troubled and obsessed mind, Fenster said she wanted readers to feel “worried, anxious, incredibly tense…both dreading and looking forward to the end.” In March 2022, A Good Winter was one of four novels shortlisted for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, and judges’ organizer Rob Kidd described it as “an unnerving and absorbing as the darkness closes in.”
“Leaving Morris” (Sport 37, Winter 2009)
“Buttons” (The International Literary Quarterly 16, 2011)
“Preview” (Hue & Cry 6, 2012).
Fenster, Gigi (2012). The book of intentions. Wellington: University of Victoria Press. ISBN 978-0-86473-879-0. OCLC 925478458.
Fenster, Gigi (2018). Feverish: a memoir. Wellington: University of Victoria Press. ISBN 978-1-77656-148-3. OCLC 1035556476.
Fenster, Gigi (2021). A good winter. Melbourne: text editing. ISBN 978-1-922458-13-1. OCLC 1257074424.
Editor’s note: Here’s Gigi in an interview. Click on the link.