• Home
  • Blog
  • Enter the 2019 Smart Alex creative writing competition for secondary school students

Enter the 2019 Smart Alex creative writing competition for secondary school students

March 4th, 2019 By Dylan Owen

Would your secondary students like to enter an exciting creative writing competition? Entry is free and there is $3,000 in prize money!

For a second year, the Friends of the Turnbull Library are running the Smart Alex creative writing competition. This is open to all secondary school and secondary home-educated students in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

The aim is to celebrate the centenary of Alexander Turnbull and his remarkable legacy.

Smart Alex 2019 creative writing competition for secondary school students

Who was Alex and why was he smart?

Around 100 years after James Cook first navigated his way to Aotearoa New Zealand, Alex Turnbull was born in Wellington, growing up to become not only a successful businessman but an amazing collector. He collected art, artefacts, clothes, coins, maps, photographs, and books — especially books about New Zealand and the Pacific. He bought his first book at 17 and didn’t stop. He wasn't a hoarder, he was a book hunter, and his passion for collecting books about us turned into something quite extraordinary.

When he died, Alexander Turnbull gifted his collection (including 55,000 books!) to New Zealand. That gift became the basis for New Zealand's largest documentary heritage library, the Alexander Turnbull Library. It was seen as 'the most generous bequest to the people of New Zealand ever made by a New Zealander' (New Zealand Times, July 1918).

Thanks to Alex’s gift 100 years ago, New Zealanders today are more informed about their heritage.

For further information about Alexander Turnbull himself, see his biography in Te Ara — The Encyclopedia of NZ.

The competition — what's involved

Secondary students are required to respond to or interpret an image from the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library and produce either:

  • a piece of creative writing
  • an illustrated graphic story, or
  • a written song/waiata.

Entries can be in English or te reo Māori.

This year’s theme is Tuia Encounters 250, which acknowledges 250 years since the beginning of sustained onshore meetings between Māori and Europeans in Aotearoa New Zealand. The commemoration is also about telling the stories and histories of the Māori communities who had been established in Aotearoa for hundreds of years and had voyaging traditions of their own.

The competition invites creative responses that explore themes of cross-cultural encounters, dual heritage/shared future, whakapapa, and identity.

Where to find images

To help the writing process, we've developed this set of images from the Turnbull Library collections. We want this tantalising selection to bring student creativity and imagination to life.

Alternatively, students can search online to discover something in the collections that will inspire them.


The Friends of the Turnbull Library are offering a total of $3,000 in prizes across two age groups:

  • Years 9–10 — the winner receives $600 cash and the runner-up receives $300 cash. The winner's school library receives a $150 book token.
  • Years 11–13 — the winner receives $800 cash and the runner-up receives $400 cash. The winner's school library receives a $150 book token.

As well, up to 12 students with highly commended entries will receive a certificate and a $50 book token.

Get your students to enter now

The competition opens 4 March 2019 , and final entries must be received no later than 5pm Sunday 21 July 2019.

Winners and highly commended entries will be announced Thursday 19 September 2019.

The official entry form can be found on the Friends of the Turnbull Library website where there are also more details about the competition.

Here are some posters to promote the competition in your school:

Tips to help your students start creating

Reading is one of the best ways to learn how to write.

First, encourage students to choose stories from authors they enjoy, then reread them, focusing on how the writer developed characters and created atmosphere and emotion.

You can also try WriteShop’s 5 tips for teenage writers.

Bring the imagination to life

Creative writing is about bringing the imagination to life through words and images.

Here are some tips from authors, musicians, and teachers for inspiring creative writing process in students:

We can't wait to read your students' stories!

While there’s no end to advice about creative writing, the Smart Alex competition will be looking for stories that display wonder, curiosity, insight, humour, courage, reflection and, of course, creative flair.

We can't wait to see how young minds will create new stories that look to our past, present, and future using the Turnbull Library collections!

Post a blog comment

(Your email will never be made public)
Services to Schools
10 March 2020 10:42am

Yes the competition will be running in 2020. Details will be available on the Services to Schools website towards the end of March 2020.

3 March 2020 7:54am

Hi there, will this competition be running in 2020?


Nicole Gaston
19 September 2019 5:46pm

Winners will be announced on Monday 23 Sept!

19 September 2019 7:32am

How do we find the winners for the comp

1 August 2019 2:42pm

Hi I have finished the creative writing.