Tessa Duder was educated in Auckland and as a teenager won a silver medal in butterfly for New Zealand at the 1958 Cardiff Empire Games. She then trained and worked as a journalist in Auckland and London before marrying and raising four daughters in London, Pakistan and New Zealand. Tessa began writing fiction when she was 38. Her novels for young readers, published in America, Britain, Australia, Canada, and in five languages, include Night Race to Kawau, Jellybean, the Alex quartet, Mercury Beach, Hot Mail (with William Taylor) and the Tiggie Tompson trilogy. In 1993 Alex was adapted as a full-length movie.
Her recent work includes a non-fiction family book on the first voyage of James Cook, First Map: How James Cook Charted Aotearoa New Zealand, and a re-issue of all four of the Alex books in one volume, Alex the Quartet. Her latest young adult novel The Sparrow was published by Penguin Random House in May 2023.
Her non-fiction books include anthologies for both young and adult readers and, in 2005, she published the first full-length literary portrait of Margaret Mahy. Other literary activities include occasional teaching, visiting schools, judging, and serving as a Trustee of the Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust Te Whare Waituhi Tamariki o Aotearoa. She is Vice-patron of the Spirit of Adventure Trust and a former Trustee. Among her awards are three New Zealand Children’s Book of the Year awards and three Esther Glen medals, and she received the 2005 Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for Night Race to Kawau. She held the Waikato University Writer’s Fellowship in 1991; was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship to Menton, France, in 2003; and in 2007 travelled to Antarctica on an Artists to Antarctica fellowship. She was awarded a New Zealand Commemorative Medal in 1990, an OBE in 1994, and the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal in 1996.
In 2008 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for services to youth by the University of Waikato. In 2020 she was awarded the CNZM for services to literature and youth, and the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement (Fiction). In 2021 she was named President of Honour of the New Zealand Society of Authors.
Tessa is a long-standing member of the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust and the Friends of Storylines Ngā Pou o te Whare Waituhi Tamariki o Aotearoa Management Committee.
Among her leisure interests are theatre-going, music, reading and sailing. She lives in Auckland, and has two grandchildren. In 2010 Storylines established the Storylines Tessa Duder Award in her name, in honour of the place Tessa holds in the establishment of the young adult genre in the New Zealand literary landscape. It is given biennially for a young adult manuscript to be published.