Smart Alex 2020

The 2020 Smart Alex creative writing competition was once again sponsored by The Friends of the Turnbull Library Ngā Hoa o te Whare Pukapuka Turnbull and organised in conjunction with Services to Schools, National Library of New Zealand. There were two age-group categories for entries: Years 9-10, and Years 11-13.

When entries closed on 19 July 2020, we had received nearly 120, from more than 50 schools throughout New Zealand and from a number of home-schooled students. We are announcing the winning results on Monday 14 September 2020. This date, 14 September, was Alex Turnbull’s birthday (152 years ago) so we’re glad to be celebrating his birthday in this way.

Competition results: 2020 Competition results

The judging panel this year consisted of noted children’s author Eirlys HunterSusan Wallace from National Library Services to Schools, and FoTL members Elle Green and Rachel Underwood.

Kate Fortune, President of the Friends of Turnbull Library, said that all the judges were particularly impressed with the wide range of writing styles this year, from romantic poems to rap. They were both diverse and captivating. Entrants drew on personal experience of COVID-19 pressures as well as responding to emotive issues such as climate change and the environment, Māori and Pasifika traditions, and social inequality and unrest.  The judges felt that both winning entries in the two age categories were outstanding, showing emotional maturity and using interesting language. Prizewinning entries mostly stood out ahead of others that sometimes allowed their enthusiasm for adjectives and metaphors to burden their own storyline.

Eirlys Hunter commented that “The winners and the runners-up showed memorable and thought-provoking use of language, handling their subject-matter with remarkable skill and sound judgement.”

Susan Wallace (from Services to Schools) said “I was really pleased with the wide range of creative entries – poems, stories and drawings – using impressive imagery with humour in many cases.”

The judges congratulate the winners and all those highly commended, saying it is fantastic to see creative writing flourishing in our secondary schools.

This was the third and final year of the competition, announced on the birthday of Alexander Turnbull – the businessman and book collector whose vast personal library was gifted to the people of New Zealand in 1918.

Over the past three years, more than 400 rangatahi from more than 200 schools have explored the National Library website to find the images that launched their creative imaginations.

And remember, if you’d like to continue to explore the Turnbull Library collections on your own, go to and look for pictures from the Alexander Turnbull Library.  Enquiries to