Apirana Taylor was born in Wellington, the son of Reremoana Taylor née Shelford of Ngāti Porou and Melvin Taylor. His childhood years were spent in Thailand. He returned to New Zealand for his schooling at Te Aute College and his tertiary studies in Māori, English and Psychology at Massey University, which he attended for one year. A televised poetry reading by Alistair Campbell made a huge impression on Taylor, and in 1973, he was able to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a full-time writer. Throughout his school years, he loved to write stories; by the ‘70s he began writing at night while supporting himself through scrub cutting, labouring, journalism, carpentry, fishing and acting.
He has published four poetry collections, three collections of short stories, one novel and four plays. Some of his stories have been broadcast on the Ears radio programme. His work has been translated into Swedish as part of collection of work by Māori writers entitled Mellan Tva Varldar: Prosaantologi Med Māori Forfattare. Ed. Bengt Dagrin. [Sweden]: Forfattares Bokmaskin, 1982. Taylor’s writing has been recognized by the following awards: he was runner-up in the Pegasus Book Awards in 1986 for his first collection of short stories He Rau Aroha: A Hundred Leaves of Love. In 1994 he won the Te Ha Award for Poetry. He was winner of the I.B.M Young Writers award. His play Kohanga was voted “Play of the Year” by the Dominion and Evening Post. He has been a Writer in Residence at Massey University and the Ursula Bethell Writers in Residence at Canterbury University in 2002.
Taylor has toured India twice as a poet and was guest poet at the Indian Centre of Cultural Relations in 1987. He has also toured Europe extensively and from October until December 2000 joined three other indigenous poets on a tour of Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Germany giving readings, performances and panel discussions. As a result of this tour, a selection of his poems have been published online in English with German and Italian translations in Words from the Edge. He is a member of Te Ha and has toured with the “On the Bus Māori Writers” tours in 2003, 2006 and 2007. He has also toured through the East Coast with and four other New Zealan poets on the Words on Wheels - the New Zealand Book Council tour. He was Writers in Rsidence at St Andrew’s College, Ranig Ruru and Hagley Community College in Christchurch in 2003.
Ata Kura: The Red-tipped Dawn (Canterbury University Press, 2004) is an acclaimed collection of poetry which builds on that previously recorded by Taylor and published as Footprints in Tears, Thumbprints in Blood (A.Taylor, 2004) . Combining themes of heritage with those of grief, beauty, and human connection, Ata Kura: The Red-Tipped Dawn has been described as a collection that “walk[s] through life” (NZine).
In 2009 A Canoe in Midstream, Taylor's fifth volume of poetry, was published by Canterbury University Press. The collection comprises old favourites – the poems most often requested at readings – with Taylor’s new work. In September 2014, Canterbury University Press published Taylor’s recent poetry collection the breathing tree. Offering 40 new poems inspired by nature and mythology, the breathing tree speaks to Taylor’s Maori heritage and the gods that link all parts of nature together.
Along with his writing career, Taylor has been very active in many aspects of film and theatre. He was a member of the theatre group Te Ohu Whakaari and was influential in the formation of Māori theatre. The Evening Post and Dominion have nominated him as best debut actor, and he was nominated best supporting actor in the New Zealand Television awards for his role in Tiger Country. He has acted in the television films Moby Dick and the Swiss Family Robinson.
Taylor has taught drama at the New Zealand Drama School and has tutored in Drama and Creative Writing at Whitireia Polytechnic.
- Interview, phone conversation and correspondence with Apirana Taylor: 1992, 20 Sept. 1998 and 8 Nov. 2004.
- Burning Boats: Seventeen New Zealand Short Stories. Ed. Owen Marshall. Auckland, N.Z.: Longman Paul, 1994. 88.