Sunday, January 26, 2014

The hunt for the Great Kiwi Classic

A Great Kiwi Classic: Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame. 
The New Zealand Book Council has launched a "hunt for the Great Kiwi Classic":  they are asking the book lovers of New Zealand to "help us choose the most loved Kiwi read".
They have asked readers to make their nominations on a special Facebook page:
or to email the Book Council at
The selected classic New Zealand book(s) will be the focus of a session at this year's Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.
Titles by Janet Frame are in the lead
Counting the nominations on the Facebook page so far, titles by Janet Frame outnumber those of any other author. Novelist Maurice Gee comes in a close second, also with a variety of titles selected. Janet Frame's novel Owls Do Cry has more votes than any other nominated title (although as you'd expect her 3 volume autobiography collected under the title An Angel at My Table also has a strong representation). Coming a close second is the Edmonds Cook Book and the novel Coal Flat by Bill Pearson currently appears to be running at third.
Other strong contenders are of course The Bone People by Keri Hulme, and Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace have several greatly loved titles nominated.
The humorous publications by Barry Crump and the Footrot Flats cartoon series also make an appearance.
Poetry lovers have also made an appearance (Janet Frame's The Goose Bath has been mentioned). The Kiwi love for our poets seems to me to be one of our best kept secrets. The best loved popular poets such as Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare, Brian Turner and Sam Hunt have all produced long lasting bestsellers that have moved outside the influence of the literary elitists and the ivory tower.
It seems a bit silly to me to have a recipe book jostling for attention with classic New Zealand fiction, so I do hope that the convenors of this exercise relax their criteria a little and allow 'winners' in several categories - fiction, non-fiction, lifestyle, contemporary and historical, as well as poetry.
But of course no matter what the organisers choose and however they manage their decisions, their main goal must be to spark discussion and generate interest in the reading riches that New Zealand has provided - which is a good thing!
And whether or not Owls Do Cry or An Angel at My Table (or any other of Frame's greatly loved and best-selling masterpieces) are recognised as THE Great Kiwi Classic, nothing can take away from the fact that they are great Kiwi classics!
Owls Do Cry was first published in 1957 to instant awe and acclaim - it had rapid sales and a quick reprint. And it has never been out of print in well over 50 years! (What other NZ classic can make such a claim? Probably only the Edmonds Cook Book!!)
Since 1957 Owls Do Cry has had dozens of different editions and hundreds of reprints all around the world. Its first foreign translation was in 1961 and it continues to have repeat foreign editions published (new editions in German and Italian most recently) and to be translated into new languages (the most recent new translations have been into Swedish and Turkish).
In 2007 the Janet Frame Literary Trust released a 50th anniversary edition through Random House NZ.
In 2014 it is time to refresh the publication cycle of this great New Zealand classic once again, and we have an exciting new paperback edition coming up for release before the middle of the year - a Text Classic Edition of Owls Do Cry. (More details soon!)
We have also recently negotiated a renewal of our agreement with Bolinda Publishing to distribute their very successful audio book of Owls Do Cry internationally.
And finally - I hope to have good news very soon about a new UK edition of Owls Do Cry.


No comments: