Sunday, May 29, 2011

The facts versus the good story

The Silence Beyond: Selected Writings
by Michael King
with an Introduction by Rachael King
published by Penguin NZ 
30 May 2011 

This book presents a slightly different impression of the author Michael King, the usually reliable historian and biographer, who as his daughter, novelist Rachael King, asserts in this interview with the Sunday Star-Times, was scrupulous with his facts in his published works, but he "never let them get in the way of a good story".
In person, as hail-fellow-well-met, and an outrageously wicked gossip, Michael often played fast and loose with the truth, as anyone who knew him well (and we count as a multitude apparently) will confirm. I observed personally that Michael used his sometimes shocking "inside" stories as a kind of social currency, to create a sense of mutual solidarity that acted as a strong "friendship" glue, and encouraged the reciprocal telling of tales and secrets. His anecdotes were told under "strictest confidence" of course, so that they could never be verified and never be rebutted.
In the pages of this new book of his selected writings and speeches, we see not only the careful and methodical researcher, we also get touches of the anecdotalist, with his carefully prepared off-the-cuff seeming soundbites honed for scandal and scuttlebutt, in which he could indulge his taste for myth-making when the rest of his career was ostensibly devoted to myth-busting. This divide between the dogged respectability of his published work and his mischievous scandal mongering in social situations is one that hasn't really been addressed formally. Some of his pranks and throwaway fabrications and exaggerations have unfortunately been taken seriously by people who have been unable to distinguish between Michael the chronicler of the tribe, and Michael the concocter of whoppers.
It was an interesting contradiction in the man Michael King that will one day I hope lead someone to undertake a very piercing and honest biography that explores his career as well as his fascinating and little-known personal life. For a man comfortable with the spotlight he kept a lot of things very private, including the family story told here at last in the essay that forms the title of the book. Rachael reports that despite being a biographer himself, Michael vehemently rejected the suggestion that he might let anybody else fossick through his life.
For the present, this book serves as a tasting plate of Michael's many interests, and as a fine tribute to his career, and as a reminder of the tragic loss we New Zealanders all sustained when Michael and his wife died so horrifically in a blazing car crash. For me picking up this book was a poignant experience, in revisiting the many years of shared experience with Michael as he wrote my aunt's biography and was in almost daily contact with her and her family and friends, and of the terrible shock of losing him only weeks after losing Janet. And now both Michael and Janet are in "the Third Place, where the starting point is myth" (Janet Frame).

Friday, May 27, 2011

"speaking for the bodies and minds locked up"

Women conquering new expanses of freedom

The current issue of the UNESCO Courier celebrates exceptional women speaking out against tyranny, fighting modern forms of slavery and breaking down social barriers that restrict women's freedom.

It's entirely appropriate that one of the role models held up in this issue as a "star in the galaxy" of women who fought personal and institutional oppression, and by her courage and determination overcame all odds in order to achieve international success, is Janet Frame, whose photograph appears on page 45, and who features in an article by Argentinian author Luisa Futoransky. Futoransky's heartfelt tribute to the New Zealand novelist and poet is a great example of the tendency of the facts about Janet Frame's real life to become an unassailable mythical narrative, but while there may be a few inaccuracies in her representation of Frame's life story, her admiration for Frame's courage and passion, and for her resistance to the attempt to silence her, is not misplaced:

"her forte was to scrutinise everything fearlessly." 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

rebellious angels who refuse to comply with mediocrity

From a review of the French edition of Towards Another Summer:
"c'est à l'albatros de Baudelaire qu'il faut comparer Janet Frame, dont les livres sont peuplés d'anges rebelles et de "princes des nuées" qui refusent d'obtempérer avec la médiocrité et qui s'escriment à traverser les miroirs sous le signe de la poésie, du merveilleux, parfois du fantastique."

Vers l'autre été

Auteur: Janet Frame
Editeur: Joëlle Losfeld

 Janet Frame

Ma terre, mon île -(UN ANGE À MA TABLE, I)   - trad. de l'anglais par Anne Damour,
Parution le : 15 juin 2000 228 pages ISBN : 2844120520

Janet Frame

UN ÉTÉ À WILLOWGLEN (UN ANGE À MA TABLE, II) [2003], trad. de l'anglais par Françoise Robert . Nouvelle édition en 2011, 266 pages sous couv. ill., 125 x 185 mm. Collection Arcanes/Joëlle Losfeld (2011), Gallimard -mémo. ISBN 9782070787944. Parution : 10-03-2011. 10,50 €

Janet Frame

LE MESSAGER (UN ANGE À MA TABLE, III) [2003], trad. de l'anglais par Dominique Mainard . Nouvelle édition en 2011, 252 pages sous couv. ill., 125 x 185 mm. Collection Arcanes/Joëlle Losfeld (2011), Gallimard -mémo. ISBN 9782070787951. Parution : 10-03-2011. 10,50 €


In praise of the short story form

Virago Modern Classics Commissoning Editor Donna Coonan blogs about why she loves short stories:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"A mighty exploration of human consciousness"



J A N E T  F R A M E

Janet Frame's writing is quite singular in directness of tone and assumption of shared mental experience. Concentration of observation in the author is returned to the reader with matching precision and power, and her writing sets off small explosions in the mind and imagination. As the body of her work has enlarged, one comes to understand it not just as a series of extraordinary insights into suffering and thought, but as a mighty exploration of human consciousness and its context in the natural world.


In  1926 the American Academy of Arts and Letters created a foreign honorary membership "to strengthen cultural ties with other countries." It currently elects 75 distinguished writers, composers, painters, sculptors, and architects from around the world to become Honorary Members. The honorary foreign members have all the rights and privileges of membership except the right to vote. New members are inducted in a ceremony held in New York every May.
25 years ago this week Janet Frame was inducted as an honorary foreign member of the Academy. She attended the lunch and ceremonials, escorted by JK Galbraith who read the above citation. She was greatly honoured by this prestigious affirmation from her American contemporaries.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A daughter of Mark Twain

In 1979 Janet Frame received a letter telling her this:

6th October 1979

Dear Janet Frame

In recognition of
your outstanding contribution to
American Literature by your

Living in the Maniototo

you have been unanimously elected


Mark Twain Journal

(Cyril Clemens was a distant cousin of Mark Twain and President of the Mark Twain Society.)

Some droll Mark Twain quotations:

"Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."

"Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man. The biography of the man himself cannot be written."
"Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't."

"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

L'immenso talento lirico e narrativo

Here's a link to a notice (in Italian) about Gridano i gufi, the new edition of Owls Do Cry in Italy, published by Neri Pozza:

Opera prima di Janet Frame, che ne rivelò l’immenso talento lirico e narrativo, Gridano i gufi è un romanzo corale che parla di amore, abnegazione, dolore e speranza, gioie e lutti con una scrittura ricca di pathos e commozione tra le più alte della narrativa femminile di tutti i tempi.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Unruly Mane

One of those social networking literary amusements at the moment is thinking up writers who had unruly manes. On Flavorwire you can find some terrific pics of "unruly manly manes" on 10 male writers.

Commenters of course were quick to say, where are the women? And Janet Frame was naturally one of the first names mentioned. Her hair was simply magnificently "different". And being red, it got her into no end of trouble.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Congratulations to Alan Loney

Day's Eye by Alan Loney
There has been a heartening response to the news that Alan Loney has been awarded the 2011 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award for Poetry.

The Otago Daily Times did a splendid report today on Alan Loney's receipt of the Janet Frame prize, and gave a further background of his relationship with Dunedin where he published his first book of poetry.

There is also some more biographical information and reviews of Alan Loney's memoirs The Falling and
 The Printing of a Masterpiece on the Black Pepper Publishing web site.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Janet Frame Prize for Kiwi Expat Author

Press Release
Friday 6 May 2011

Poet, printer and editor Alan Loney has been named as the 2011 recipient of a Janet Frame Literary Trust Award worth $10,000. Alan Loney is a New Zealander who has lived in Melbourne, Australia in recent years, although retaining strong literary ties on both sides of the Tasman. Born in 1940, Loney's first book of poetry was published in 1971. He won a NZ Book Award for his 1976 collection dear Mondrian. US poet Robert Creeley said of the collection Sidetracks: Notebooks 1976-1991, that "Alan Loney's work has always been at the cutting edge of world literature. His mastery has become a resource for us all."

Alongside an influential career as printer, editor and publisher, Loney has an extensive bibliography of his own poetry and prose published in many countries. He has four titles forthcoming in 2011: Anne of the Iron Door (a novella from Black Pepper Press, Melbourne) as well as three new poetry volumes with Rubicon Press (Canada), Ninja Press (California) and Chax Press (Arizona). The Falling: A Memoir was released by Auckland University Press in 2001.

Chair of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Pamela Gordon said, 'These awards are made possible by Janet Frame's generous bequest of an endowment fund, and they're offered in her spirit of wanting to give encouragement and financial support to established writers of proven merit, who may be overdue for some recognition or reward."

Alan Loney declared himself "astonished, delighted, honoured and somewhat moved" to receive the prize, and he also said "how nourishing the news about the Award is, and how confirming it seems for such a life's work that I have had".

Stella Duffy recommends Janet Frame

For May's inspiration on the Virago Press blog, Stella Duffy recommends Janet Frame's short-story collection, The Daylight and the Dust:

Janet Frame, renowned for her autobiographies and her novels, was also a consummate short-story writer and poet. The Daylight and the Dust brings together work from the four story collections published during her lifetime and not only showcases her virtuoso story-telling, but also gives us a chance to follow the development of her work. From the very first these stories are perfectly made little jewels, often told from the child’s perspective, but with the adult writer’s skill at making a point, winkling out a secret, exposing a lie. Though the majority of the collection are straight stories with beginning/middle/end, identifiable characters and – as so often with Frame – family at the centre, some – ‘The Daylight and the Dust’ of the title for example – are closer to poetry in their brevity and gorgeousness of language, while others like ‘My Last Story’ speak directly to the work of writing – and of reading. This is the engagement we embark upon when reading Frame, she is not a novelist to lose oneself in the pages, her books are not necessarily ‘page-turners’ – and that’s all to the good. These are stories and characters that pull us in, their language sometimes a little strange, their style ever so slightly heightened, so that we are both immersed in the story and yet also conscious of reading. It’s a very hard trick to pull off, and yet Frame achieves it time and again – allowing us too, to coolly stand alongside, and value both the work the writer is giving us and also our own interpretation. It is the act of being outside and inside the piece at once. A good short-story collection is the ideal array of tapas or meze, just enough and not too much – or the perfect box of chocolates. Frame, with her bitter-sweet eye for sadness and hilarity, hope and despair intermingled, gives us both. Delicious.

* The Daylight and the Dust is also known as Prizes: Selected Stories (in the USA and in New Zealand)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Not just for the ivory towers

English literature academics are very fond of studying Janet Frame, because they can find in her just about whatever they like really, and sometimes what they discover in her work is quite arcane. It used to surprise her! Frame scholars like to go on about how "difficult" her work is, except for her short stories, her autobiographies, her poetry, and more than half of her novels. But the rest, the rest, is very "difficult"! (Some of her novels do offer many different levels for the reader to engage at, as with any quality literary fiction. If you aren't up to reading Shakespeare, Dickens, Coetzee, Atwood, Woolf, then you probably will find Frame a bit challenging too.)

So there is a Frame industry in the ivory towers, and 'nice work if you can get it'! But the rest of us, ordinary readers, Frame fans, just love her work, either for its poetry, or its humanity, because it is just so beautifully written or because human life and the natural world is just so exquisitely observed. Some like it because Frame is so unafraid to tackle taboo subjects, and she is honest about subjects like death and grief and loneliness. Some appreciate the satire and the class analysis. There is certainly more to her than the riddles and puzzles that seem to obsess some of the scholars.

You don't need a degree, or to have studied Frame, to be able to read her. I think academics forget that. They get so bound up with seeing patterns, and overlaying templates onto her work, that they forget the actual writing. They don't see what each book is actually about, that as well as whatever else it might be in their opinion, it is chiefly art. Fortunately not everybody gets lost in the thin air at the tops of the mountains! In fact many Janet Frame stories and passages and poems are used in schools, and not just in the English language speaking world, Her work is read also in foreign countries, to give children and young people a taste of the very best of world literatures in English. A busy part of my job is handling permissions for educational texts. One such English text book just arrived on my desk this week as the result of a deal done with a foreign publisher. It's an English text book from Norway, called GATEWAYS. The book includes a chapter from Janet Frame's Commonwealth Literary Prize-winning novel The Carpathians. The passage contains an incisive social observation of an intercultural encounter, and an intergenerational one too, and the theme is concerned with the adoption of new technologies and the social change that comes with that. Other famous English language authors featured in the text book include: Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, Oscar Wilde, Graham Greene, Arthur C. Clarke, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman... 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Frame Function Launch

The Frame Function launch at Unity Books in Auckland last week.
Left: Poet Selina Tusitala Marsh reads her poem "Jan's Janet"
Centre: Academic author Jan Cronin
Right: AUP publisher Sam Elworthy
(Photo: Auckland University Press Facebook Page)

Prominent NZ Book blogger Graham Beattie reported on the launch last week of Jan Cronin's book The Frame Function. Sounds like a good crowd and Bookman Beattie has reproduced the text of the launch speech given by Peter Simpson. Lots of mountain climbing metaphors! My copy of the book arrived today and what a fascinating cover. Looks like a meaty and thought-provoking text. An absolute must read for Frame scholars and postgrad students.

True or False? #3

When Janet Frame was a young woman living in London she worked alone in a basement room painting the eyes onto the faces of dolls.

True or False?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Slaving over a hot manuscript

The Frame executors are currently working on a collection of new stories by Janet Frame, to be published next year by Penguin NZ.