Isa Moynihan (1925-2013)
Writer and reviewer Isa Moynihan of Christchurch died in June at the age of 88. Her work was published in New Zealand and overseas anthologies, but deserved greater recognition than it received. It was characterised by ironic humour and sharp observation. In 1996, she won the Reed Fiction Award for her first collection of short stories, Sex and the Single Mayfly. The Rashoman Factor (a whodunit set on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean) followed in 2000, and another short story collection, Here and There, Now and Then, in 2007. Moynihan’s stories are eclectic and witty, often wickedly so, but usually with a dark edge. Some dabbled with science fiction.
At a memorial service held in July, friends spoke about her career at the Christchurch Teachers College, during which she was awarded a PhD in applied linguistics; about her life in Malaysia and Singapore; about her love of language and writing. Karen Zelas, current editor of Takahe, spoke of Moynihan’s 16 years editorship of the magazine, her support for new writers and her continuing involvement with the magazine.
Together with poems and music Moynihan loved, and an extract from one of her own stories, “In Memory of Loving”, the tributes painted a picture of a greatly admired, often glamorous woman of formidable intelligence and acerbic wit. Of the possible rewards for local writing, she once commented sardonically: “You may win a prize and be turned into a university fellow. Your name may be recognised beyond our shores – even in Hollywood.”
It was no surprise to friends and admirers to find the evergreen Moynihan had a new story in the then latest issue of Takahe (April 2013, no 78). No surprise to find in it the sex, the humour, the social and literary playfulness that marked her style. No surprise, either, that when Moynihan settled into a studio at the Ngaio Marsh Retirement Village, one of the first things she did was to set up a writing group.
Sandra Arnold, Bernadette Hall, James Norcliffe