Monday, March 7, 2016

Elizabeth Smither's Report on her Janet Frame Award

Report on New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature 2014: Elizabeth Smither

When I received news from Claire Hill that I had been awarded the Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature for 2014 I not only felt exceptionally honoured – there is no other name that could adorn an award and give me more pleasure – but I also found myself treasuring personal memories of Janet, some notes I had received from her on green paper, a meeting at her home in Stratford (and the easy and rapid way we conversed). Since that time I also had the pleasure of launching her correspondence with Charles Brasch in Dear Charles Dear Janet at the Gus Fisher Gallery. Most of all though the award and what it signified brought me closer, not just to a greatly admired writer, but to one who understood fully how precarious a writer’s life can be. The generosity of the grant of $3,000 and the open-ended way in which the writer could decide to use it (on buying a computer or buying time or travelling) was the best kind of support a writer can receive.

I decided to do what I imagined Janet would do in a similar circumstance: simply keep going at the work in hand. In my case this included a new collection of poems: Night Horse which I am hoping to submit for Auckland University Press for 2017; writing some new stories; and working on a further draft of a novel which I had started in 2013, abandoned, and then decided to re-write. I worked on these three projects simultaneously, sometimes concentrating on stories, never letting the poetry writing lapse, and, once I was working on the novel producing a quota of words each week. Janet gave me the impression of working on different characters in different rooms in her house – I think she said as much when she was showing me around.

The other benefit of such a grant is an increase in confidence: I certainly felt this. Though I worked across several genres and wrote reviews and reports and went on mentoring students I did all these things with increased pleasure and application simply because I was the recipient of this award. It is an award that brings a welcome gravitas.

Now that the writing year is nearly ended I realise I am working in the same pattern as I was when I received news of the Janet Frame Memorial Award last October. The award has been both a recognition and a consolidation; I think it echoes the way I imagine Janet herself worked: writing as a task and a vocation, a steady application, concentration and attention to detail and accuracy.

It has been a great personal pleasure to have held this award. I don’t think of it as being finite, or confined to merely one year: I am sure the benefit will last through my whole career as a writer.

Elizabeth Smither
30 October 2015

Many thanks to Jackie Dennis, CEO of the NZ Society of Authors, and to Elizabeth Smither for permission to reproduce this report here.
The NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature will be offered again in 2016. (See the link for more details.)
ELIZABETH SMITHER is a former New Zealand Poet Laureate and will take part this week in the event A Circle of Laureates at Wellington’s New Zealand Festival Writers Week: Friday 11 March, 7pm, National Library of New Zealand.


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