Bridget Williams has been publishing in New Zealand since 1976. Working first for Oxford University Press, she produced key titles such as The Oxford History of New Zealand (edited by W.H. Oliver with B.R. Williams), Geoffrey Palmer’s Unbridled Power, The Collected Poems of James K. Baxter and Maurice Gee’s, Under the Mountain.
With bookseller Roy Parsons and designer Lindsay Missen, Bridget Williams started Port Nicholson Press in 1981, producing a small distinguished list including authors such as Bill Manhire, W.H. Oliver, Lauris Edmond, and Les Molloy. In 1985, Bridget became the managing director of Allen & Unwin New Zealand, and produced a New Zealand list under the imprint Allen & Unwin/Port Nicholson Press.
Under her direction, Allen & Unwin New Zealand was known as a leading publisher of history and politics, with a growing list in Māori titles and women’s studies. Titles included The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Claudia Orange’s Treaty of Waitangi, Pauline O’Regan’s A Changing Order, Colin James’s New Territory, Lauris Edmond’s autobiographies, Marilyn Waring’s Counting for Nothing.
By the time the parent company was sold in the UK, in 1990, Allen & Unwin was publishing 20–30 books a year, making a significant contribution to New Zealand’s intellectual life. Bridget Williams bought back the New Zealand list, and formed Bridget Williams Books.
BWB maintained a vigorous presence for six years, as an independent company. More volumes of The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography were published with its companion volumes in te reo, Nga Tangata Taumata Rau; Jane Kelsey’s reputation as a political commentator was established; books on women included The Book of New Zealand Women edited by Charlotte Macdonald, Merimeri Penfold and Bridget Williams, and Te Timatanga Tatau Tatau, edited by Dame Mira Szasy and Miria Simpson.
For three years from 1995 to 1998, Bridget Williams published with Auckland University Press under the joint AUP/BWB imprint. Two books won the Montana Book of the Year Award in successive years – Judith Binney’s Redemption Songs and Jessie Munro’s The Story of Suzanne Aubert. BWB emerged as an independent imprint again in 1998.
Marked by many awards, this distinguished list of New Zealand books includes groundbreaking reference works – The Oxford History of New Zealand, The Book of New Zealand Women / Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa, The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, The Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language, to be followed in 2014 by Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History, and in 2016 by A History of New Zealand Women.
Scholars with international reputations appear alongside emerging writers and journalists – Atholl Anderson, Tony Ballantyne, James Belich, Judith Binney, Jonathan Boston, Barbara Brookes, Giselle Byrnes, Simon Chapple, Andrew Dean, Shamubeel Eaqub, Martin Edmond, Rod Edmond, Lloyd Geering, Aroha Harris, Jane Kelsey, Colin James, Adrienne Jansen, Cybele Locke, Charlotte Macdonald, Vincent O’Malley, Max Rashbrooke, Trevor Richards, Andrew Sharp, Te Maire Tau, Angela Wanhalla, Alan Ward, Marilyn Waring.
Bridget Williams’s long commitment to publishing with and for Māori includes work particularly with Ngāi Tahu and with Ngāi Tūhoe. This publishing was acknowledged in the New Zealand Post Book of the Year Award for Judith Binney’s Encircled Lands: Te Urewera, 1820-1921 in 2010. Many scholars with knowledge and expertise in Māori history have lent their strength to this publishing.
Books on New Zealand history, Māori history, women’s issues and contemporary topics have steadily expanded the boundaries of what New Zealand readers can expect to discover. As Judith Binney wrote in Stories Without End (2010): ‘Storytelling is an art deep within human nature… The art of transmitting the “histories that matter” to successive generations is as old as human existence.’