Thursday, June 22, 2017

Janet Frame typescripts on display at Hocken

FREEFALL:  treasures from the Hocken library

A current exhibition at the Hocken Library in Dunedin features a 1947 fan letter Janet Frame wrote to fellow New Zealand poet James K Baxter. Frame sent the letter from the Occidental Hotel in Christchurch where she was working as a live-in maid.

 
 

Not a performing monkey


Apparently this was not strictly the first contact between the two. A mutual friend of Frame and Baxter had attempted to manipulate Frame into a surprise meeting with Baxter in Dunedin the previous year. Frame was confronted with Baxter's presence at a private meeting without expecting it, and she consequently ignored him. This kind of ambush meeting never went well with Frame who had a fierce sense of her own agency. She was particularly stubborn when it came to people trying to trick her into a situation without having respect for her free will. Stories about these disastrous attempts to ambush Frame are almost always told in a pathologising way, as though she was incapable of the social occasion, but those of us who knew Janet well would recognize her anger when anyone tried to bully her into something she would rather not do, or do under her own steam. Anyone who tried to trick Janet into meeting someone who had begged to meet her ran the risk of losing her trust if not her friendship. And if somebody did manage to force their way into her presence uninvited she did deliberately give them the silent treatment. She reached out to people under her own terms and was very annoyed if any of her associates tried to show her off or treat her like a performing monkey. Janet's friend Bill Brown learned this lesson for himself many years later (she never changed this strategy.) Bill amusingly used to tell of the time he invited friends over to meet the famous visiting author, without asking or telling Janet, and she stayed stubbornly silent for the whole ambush visit, later fuming about the imposition. "I never did that again!" he used to say with a laugh.


Also on display in the exhibition 'Freefall' is the original typescript of Frame's poetry volume THE POCKET MIRROR (1967). Another myth-buster, this original manuscript is skillfully typed, tidy, with all the poems numbered in sequence. There is a story going around that these poems were roughly thrown together in no particular order but the Hocken manuscript shows that, as was her custom, Frame had put together a coherent and well-presented document.

By 1967, 20 years after she first wrote to him, Frame and Baxter were now close friends and The Pocket Mirror contains a verse letter to Baxter called 'The Reply', reminiscing about a winter outing Frame had been on with the Baxter family.

Excerpt from 'The Reply', a poem Janet Frame addressed to James K Baxter in 1967, published in The Pocket Mirror.
Many other wonderful items are on display in this exhibition, which closes on the 1st of July.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Janet Frame in Baltimore

A new Janet Frame poem poster

Introducing the latest Janet Frame poem poster to be produced by Phantom Billstickers ‘Baltimore, November’ was first published posthumously in The Goose Bath (2006) and has been reprinted in Storms will Tell: Selected Poems by Janet Frame (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) ©Janet Frame Literary Trust

 

A powerful political poem

 The theme of child poverty in this poem is typical for Janet Frame who often chose to highlight political issues in her poetry as in her other writings.

Sadly, in 2017 as I write this, child poverty is now a pressing election issue in Janet Frame's homeland of New Zealand. Poverty also still afflicts the East Baltimore Janet Frame knew so well. The area later became the setting for the brilliant TV series 'The Wire'.
Janet Frame with friend, East Madison Street,  Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Janet Frame (1924-2004) is New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed author. She won numerous awards for her novels, short stories and poetry, and her bestselling autobiography An Angel at My Table was adapted for the big screen by Jane Campion in 1990. Janet Frame travelled widely and lived for periods of time in England, Spain, France and the USA. In 1986 the American Academy of Arts and Letters made her an Honorary Foreign Member at a ceremony she attended in New York. The photograph above by John Money shows Frame in the back garden of his house in East Baltimore where she made extended visits over several decades.
 

Janet Frame's Phantom Billstickers Poem Posters

 

 

 
 
Celebrating a long and happy partnership between the Janet Frame Literary Trust and Phantom Billstickers POETRY ON THE STREETS project.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

RIP George Braziller

Janet Frame and George Braziller
Central Park, New York
Photo: Pamela Gordon
 
I was very sad to hear in March this year of the death of the remarkable American publisher George Braziller at the age of 101. As his New York Times obituary notes:

Mr. Braziller’s most enduring publishing relationship was with New Zealand’s Janet Frame. It began with her first novel, “Owls Do Cry,” which he published in 1960, and continued for 30 years with eight more novels and volumes of short stories, poetry and an autobiography.
I met George several times in Janet's company, in New Zealand and in the States. He was a gentleman, with a powerful presence, a rich, emotional voice, and a great love of the finest things in life, surrounding himself with the best in literature and art - and if he couldn't find it, he published it!

Among my own most loved treasures are a couple of exquisite George Braziller editions of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves and of the Duke de Berry (I love illuminated manuscripts), and for me one of the highlights of my visit to New York in 2000 with my aunt was a guided tour George gave us around the Morgan Library, a place where he clearly felt so very much at home.


As I have described before, it was very moving to witness the tenderness and depth of George and Janet's relationship - his fierce admiration for her work and her fierce loyalty to him in spite of many efforts on the part of many people over the years to persuade her to move to a larger publishing house that in their opinion would have been 'better for her career'. Janet Frame had her own ideas about that.

My sincerest condolences to George's family, friends and colleagues for their loss.
He will be irreplaceable, and his death feels like the end of an era.

ArtForum obituary

Publishers Weekly obituary

Washington Post obituary

Wall Street Journal obituary







Friday, May 26, 2017

"Read Local": Dunedin's Lilliput Library #99

 
Little boxes full of books have been cropping up all around Dunedin as part of the Lilliput Library Scheme. Each little library is positioned on the fence line of the Guardian of the box. The project is an initiative of Dunedin poet Ruth Arnison who also coordinates the Poems in the Waiting Room charity.
 
 
The idea is for members of the surrounding community to borrow or take a book and return it or swap it for another one. All the boxes I have seen have had a good selection  of children's books as well as light recreational reading and a handful of more meaty fare.
 
 
Dunedin's latest Lilliput Library #99 has been decorated as a tribute to three local literary stars: Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare and James K. Baxter.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Laurence Fearnley: NZSA Janet Frame Award 2016

Novelist Laurence Fearnley has been awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award 2016
 
For a period of ten years the NZ Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award of $3,000 has been awarded biennially to an author of literary or imaginative fiction or poetry with the purpose of supporting a mid-career or established writer in furthering their literary career. The award was made possible by a gift of $15,000 from the Janet Frame Literary Trust to the NZSA in 2007.  Past recipients have been: Emma NealeTim JonesDiane Brown and Elizabeth Smither. Late last year the last in a series of 5 awards was made to Laurence Fearnleynovelist and non-fiction writer.

 
Laurence Fearnley lives in Dunedin, a UNESCO City of Literature. She plans to use the award developing her current project – writing a series of short pieces structured in such a way that each story responds to the traditional development and dry-down of perfume. That is, the volume will open with ‘top notes’, develop through the ‘heart notes’ and end with ‘base notes’. She says:

 “I have long been interested in landscape and ‘place’ and have explored aspects of both in novels such as The Quiet Spectacular, The Hut Builder, Edwin and Matilda. But I am also interested in perfume and scent, and over the past year I have been thinking about ways to approach landscape through smell, rather than through sight (or sound). I believe that by taking notice of the scent of my surroundings, I have come to appreciate a more detailed, intimate relationship with the places I visit.”

Laurence Fearnley was selected from a very strong field of applicants and the quality of her fellow shortlisted authors speaks for itself: Riemke Ensing, Siobhan Harvey, Tina Shaw and Tracey Slaughter were all highly commended.

 Selection Panel Convenor Owen Marshall congratulated Laurence Fearnley and the other shortlisted writers, and also wished well all those writers who applied.



 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Janet Frame was not as shy as you think

Janet Frame pictured at the Fifth International Festival of Authors, Toronto, 1984, where she appeared with other international literary stars including Susan Sontag, Margaret Atwood, Homero Aridjis and Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
An interesting article on literary festivals in this week's New Zealand Listener quotes novelist Emily Perkins on her experience of hearing Janet Frame perform her work at a Wellington festival:

 “She read a story but basically knew it by heart – it was the most electrifying experience. For all that she is said to have been shy, she had the room in the palm of her hand.”

Janet Frame was indeed shy when she was young, as so many young people are. Even young animals are 'shy': it is a natural phenomenon. But for some reason Frame's shyness has been grossly exaggerated to the extent that when her shyness is referred to these days the speaker often finds it necessary to add some adjective like 'pathological' to the word 'shy', just to enhance their story, to make it more shocking, more sensational. 'Shy' just doesn't seem to fit the bill given all the other outrageous gossip one has heard over the years about Janet Frame. People imagine that she must have been so shy she was scared of her own shadow, surely. (Perhaps influenced by demeaning fictional portrayals they may have encountered.)

So they just make it up. They add 'painfully' or 'pathologically' or even the egregious 'cripplingly' shy and with a stroke of the pen Frame is made to be 'other'. She is not permitted the run of the mill 'shyness' that describes so many of us, including our other heroes such as Edmund Hillary and almost every rugby player ever. Their shyness is acknowledged and accepted as part of the self-effacing  New Zealand character while Frame's is exaggerated and pathologised.

But even for a shy person, Frame went a lot of places and did a lot of things, and met a lot of people. She mixed easily in all levels of society and she was not as shy as you might have been led to believe, and she certainly was not pathologically shy.

Emily Perkins seems to have realised all this from observing the control Frame had over the huge sold-out audience at the Wellington Town Hall. ("For all that she is said to have been shy.") As a young person Frame had, after all, been a prize-winning speaker in her school years and was on the high school debating team. Hardly an indication of an 'agonisingly' or 'inordinately' or 'deeply' or even 'very' shy person.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

15 Minutes of Frame



15 Minutes of Frame is an event being held today at the Dunedin Public Library, organised by Dunedin City Council staff as part of 'Book Night', an initiative of New Zealand's Book Discussion Scheme.

15 minutes of Frame! So witty! I wish I'd thought of it. ("You will, Oscar, you will.")


'15 Minutes of Frame' is being held today, Tuesday the 23rd of May 2017, at Dunedin Public Library, at 5pm, on the ground floor. There will be a display of Janet Frame books and an invitation to the public to read a favourite piece from Janet Frame's work. There is plenty to choose from!

I heard about this event when I received a request for the use of a portrait of Janet Frame on the poster, which of course I was happy to supply for such a good cause. Unfortunately I can't attend this event but the concept of Book Night means that one can participate in any of the dozens of registered Book Night events around the country from home as well, by taking a selfie of oneself reading and sending it in to the Book Discussion Scheme's Book Night website:
 
Dunedin Public Library