Marlene was born in Westport, the oldest of five children born to Roy and Beatrice Anderson née Chambers. She was educated at fifteen different schools during the course of her father’s itinerant sawmilling work. She worked as a secretary in Pahiatua for two and a half years and in 1957 married Neville (Hec) Bennetts. In 1987 they moved from Auckland to the small former coal mining village of Blackball on the West Coast of the South Island, and later moved to Christchurch. When Marlene was thirty-five she began the first of two writing courses completed with the International Correspondence School in Wellington; in 1979 she was awarded the Correspondence School’s Diploma for Short Story Writing and a Certificate of Merit for literary work in the 1979 Golden Anniversary Writing Competition. For five years Marlene attended short story and poetry writing courses tutored by Hilda Phillips in the Epsom Community Centre and became a member of Titirangi Poets. In 1992 she completed a Children’s Features Correspondence Course based in Manchester, England.
Marlene writes poetry, short stories, children’s writing, and non-fiction articles and publications. She has published three anthologies of poetry and short stories and has written a number of children’s books. She has published stories in school journals and other New Zealand publications and anthologies including Kiwi Kids Magazine, NZ Woman’s Weekly, Tailings, Jabberwocky (Allsorts), and School Magazine (Australia). Since 1984 her haiku have been regularly published in Mainichi Daily News, in Japan. She also publishes poetry, short stories and book reviews in Tower Poetry (Canada), Dandelion Arts Magazine and Skin (England), Voices (Israel), and in various publications in the USA. Eleven of her stories have been translated into Māori and published by Māori Publications at Waikato University.
Her stories “Pet”, “Ghost House” (1993), “Over the Back” (August 1996), “The Impossible Swim” and “Goldpanning Day” have been broadcast on the Ears Programme on National Radio. In January 1986 some of her poems were recorded by the Eagle Rock recording company in Los Angeles, USA.
Over the last seventeen years Marlene has received many awards for her writing. In 1990, 1991 and 1992 she was awarded the New Zealand Penwoman’s Club Nesta Barnes Memorial Trophy for most poems published overseas in those years. In 1992 she was an award winner in the poetry section of the Whitireia Community Polytechnic Poetry competition for her haiku “Microwave Living”. She was a winner of the Summer 1992 Iliad Literary Awards Program of Verses in Michigan and was a runner-up in the Haiku Section and Poetry Section of the 1990 International Poetry Competition. She was awarded the Barhill Trophy (International Writers’ Workshop) for the New Zealand poet who has published most poems overseas in 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994. In 1993 she was highly commended in the International Writers’ Workshop New Zealand Children’s Story Competition, and she has been a finalist in Te Kaunihera Māori Award for best short story in English by a previously published Māori writer in Nga Tohu Pakiwaitara a Huia/Huia Short Story Awards in 1995, 1997, and 2003. In 1984 she was awarded second place for her poem “Food for all” by World Harvest and this was published in the anthology Poets for Africa. In 1987 she was highly commended for her short story “Rock Bottom” by the Australian Writers World. She was awarded honourable mention in the Iliad Press Haiku Poetry Competition in 1989 and won first prize in the 1995 Lorna Anker Trophy (WEA) for poetry. In 1990 one of her haiku went into an anthology called Frosted Rails in a New Zealand Poetry Society competition and in the same year Marlene won the Loyolla Rowe Memorial Cup (International Writers Workshop) for the most poems published in New Zealand and overseas. In 1991 she was highly commended for her poem “Backcasting” by Australian Writers World, and in 1992 won third place for her children’s story “The Feathered Cloak” in the International Writers Workshop. In 1993 she won the Dolores Boccanera Poetry Prize, England, for her poem “Needlepoint Love” which was subsequently published by Fern Publications. In 1994 she received the Publishers Choice Award for Haiku by Watermark Press, USA for her haiku “Inspiration”. In 1994 she got honourable mention in the Iliad Literary Awards Programme for her poem “Christmas Gift” and received the USA National Authors’ Registry 1996 Literary Award for Literary Excellence for the same poem. In 1995 she received the Editors Choice Award in Verses Magazine, USA, for her haiku “Summer Opal Moon”. In the 2003 Queen’s Birthday Honours she was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.
In 1985 Marlene was invited to join the New Zealand Penwomen’s Club and in 1987 joined the International Writers Group. She is a member of Titirangi Poets, Westland Writers, Te Ha, Nga Puna Waihanga, WEA Writers, and the South Island Writers Association. She has been a member of Gippsland Writers (Australia) and Writers World (Australia). She has been a New Zealand Book Council writer-in-schools for the last nine years and has visited numerous schools throughout New Zealand. For three consecutive years she tutored poetry workshops at Hauraki Plains College in Ngatea and took poetry workshops at Hauraki Primary School. She was invited to run a writers workshop on self-publishing by the Christchurch Library for “Books & More” week in 1999.
Marlene writes: “Throughout the years, the urge has never left me to write down the stories I had been told as a child. For as long as I could remember, I had heard my parents and grandparents recounting their pioneering hardships and the ways they overcame them. The more I identified with my European and Māori heritage, the stronger grew the desire to write about this.”
- Correspondence and interviews with Marlene in 1992, 27 Sept. 1996, 1 Apr. 2004, 15 Aug. 2007, and Jan. 2008.