The award was established by an anonymous group (thought to have been instigated by Charles Brasch) to be awarded each year to "writers of imaginative literature, including poetry, drama, fiction, autobiography, biography, essays or literary criticism.
The position is based at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. It provides a year's salary along with accommodation and an office for a writer in and around the university. Terms are for one year, although this may be extended to a second year in rare cases.
The Robert Burns Fellowship is named after Scotland's national poet Robert Burns. Dunedin is the city in New Zealand with the highest proportion of people of Scottish descent, and one of its founding fathers was Burns's nephew Thomas Burns.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fellowship, a book - Nurse to the imagination: Fifty years of the Robert Burns Fellowship - is to be launched in October 2008, along with commemorations to coincide with Dunedin's 2008 Arts Festival.