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Gonged for the write stuff

When Ian Fraser Grant received an email several weeks ago from the Prime Minister’s Department about being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, his initial thought was that it was “a clever scam”, although feeling “a little humbled” swiftly followed.

“We have absolutely no idea who was responsible for the nomination, but I do know, having been involved in nominating other people, that there’s quite a lot of time and effort involved,” he told the Times-Age.

“It’s also the same honour my wife Diane received 22 years ago [for services to the community] – so I’ve finally sort of caught up!”

The Masterton writer and publisher, who has been recognised for services to literature and historical preservation, has written 18 books, including the pioneering 1980 study The Unauthorized Version: A Cartoon History of New Zealand’, and a two-volume history of New Zealand newspapers from 1840 to 2000, the final part of which was launched last week.

He’s also published more than 170 books, most of them with his wife Diane since they founded Fraser Books in 1984.

Having been a founding editorial and marketing director of National Business Review in 1970, in 1992 he founded the National Library’s New Zealand Cartoon Archive – with more than 60,000 cartoons reflecting the country’s society and politics, it’s considered an invaluable resource for writers and researchers – and chaired its governing bodies until 2019.

The Alexander Turnbull Library’s inaugural Adjunct Scholar in 2014, Grant has also held residencies at the Stout Centre for New Zealand Studies and was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award at the 2012 Media Awards. He is a Life Member of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs and received a Masterton Civic Award in 2020. Although he hesitates to call it a ‘career’ – “it has been all about a writing way of living that is more likely to lead to modest circumstances than honours” – Grant puts his long term focus on the nation’s history down to “the strong belief that it is important for New Zealand to record its past – the byways as well as the more obvious highways”.

“It is important to really understand the history of our indigenous people and colonists; and it’s essential to know our history to understand the present and make sensible decisions about the future.”

Grant has also held a range of positions in Wairarapa organisations, including the Wairarapa Archive, the Wairarapa Yarns in Barns writers and readers festival, the Wairarapa Cultural Trust, and the Wairarapa branch of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

Although he admits to having “never been a joiner of social clubs”, Grant said his involvement in such groups has been born of the view – shared with Diane – that “the successful survival of a country is about community and the ability of people to live together and pursue goals for a collective good” and “it’s important to lead or participate in groups that provide essential or enriching opportunities for the community we live in”.

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