In an extraordinary tribute by one preeminent New Zealand writer to another, Witi Ihimaera's dedicatory address or mihi to Dear Miss Mansfield (1989) offers Mansfield his ‘highest regard and gratitude for having been among us and above us all’. Recognising that Mansfield's writing captures ‘the common experiences of mankind’, Ihimaera nonetheless stitches her into a whakapapa or genealogy of New Zealand literature that has issued in the bicultural ‘years of fulfillment’ bringing such (Māori) women writers as Patricia Grace and Keri Hulme to prominence. In the bipartite collection that follows, Ihimaera binds Mansfield's writing further into a bicultural, indeed Māori tradition, through textual ‘variations’ of stories ranging from ‘The Woman at the Store’ to ‘At the Bay’. While the ‘variations’ provide oblique or sometimes scathing commentary on the gender, race, and class violence that subtends Mansfield's evocation of the world of high colonialism, the novella that forms the first part of the volume performs another kind of tributary provocation and appropriation. On the basis of a suggestion canvassed in Pat Lawlor's book about Maata Mahupuku that the latter was in possession of a manuscript authored by Mansfield, the story teases the reader into following a literary detective hunt to track down the missing novel. The conclusion assures the reader that the manuscript did in fact exist but, in accordance with Māori custom, was destroyed by Maata. As the narrator explains to the reader, when Mansfield died, the manuscript ‘which was also Katherine Mansfield, became a tupapaku – the dead Katherine – and all the more tapu (sacred) for that. It was something which, in Māori tradition, would have been returned at the tangi – like a piece of greenstone or feather cloak – to be joined again with the person and taken with her to earth, as an act of honour and aroha’. But because the manuscript was also Maata, she had to carry the tūpāpaku with her until her own death, resisting the European presumption that it should be made public, so ‘that when she died the manuscript which was both Katherine and herself should be closed away with her like a jeweled locket’.
Ihimaera's version of Maata stands in contrast to the heroic work of scholarship performed by Margaret Scott, patient transcriber of Mansfield's notoriously difficult handwriting, which produced a lengthy extract of the embryonic novella that is published in The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks (2002).