Wednesday, August 28, 2019

2019 Janet Frame Prize for Christchurch Novelist

PRESS RELEASE Wednesday 28 August 2019

Novelist and historian Stevan Eldred-Grigg receives 2019 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award

Janet Frame’s estate has announced their biennial award to coincide with the celebrated author’s 95th birthday on the 28th of August. The award is currently worth $5,000. Janet Frame founded the Janet Frame Literary Trust in 1999 and bequeathed her ongoing royalty income to an endowment fund from which she directed that occasional financial gifts should be given to established NZ writers of fiction and poetry. Since Janet Frame’s death in 2004 her charitable trust has awarded over $120,000 in grants and donations.

 Janet Frame herself had benefited from well-timed literary prizes over her long career, most famously the PEN prize in 1952 that saved her from an imminent lobotomy because her doctor at Seacliff Mental Hospital read the newspaper report about it. The diagnosis of schizophrenia hanging over Frame at that time was later discredited. Frame understood that it was not just the award money that was welcomed but also the boost in morale for an author who may have been feeling under-appreciated.

2019 recipient Stevan Eldred-Grigg  has echoed this doubly welcome effect of an unexpected prize:

“What wonderful news! I was always aware of the way Janet would deflect, in her characteristic dry way, all the pooh-bah-ish pomposities of book awards by saying she was grateful for getting this or that grant because it would mean she could leave the lights switched on a little longer.”

“It does feel very much as though Janet has somehow reached out in encouragement.“

“Janet has been one of the brightest lights in my firmament of words, ever since I first read A State of Siege at the age of sixteen. I keep coming back to Janet's work. I learn new things each time I do come back. So it's very moving to think that now she's reaching me in another way, too, by way of this award.”

Stevan Eldred-Grigg was born in a speeding taxi in 1952, somewhere between Blackball and Greymouth Hospital. Just as his birthplace may be difficult to pinpoint, so does Eldred-Grigg sometimes blur the lines in his work between fiction, autobiography and social history. His prize winning first novel Oracles and Miracles (1987) earned him high praise for the realistic portrayal of the lives of working class women in Christchurch. His painstakingly researched work Diggers, Hatters and Whores: The story of the New Zealand Gold Rushes (2008) was cited by Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton as essential background reading for her novel The Luminaries. Dr Eldred-Grigg has published 20 books and is currently working on “a sort of memoir of the West Coast”. He has been described as “a natural story-teller” (METRO magazine).

 Stevan Eldred-Grigg, like Janet Frame, exemplifies the theme of “the expatriate returns”. He has lived in many places in New Zealand and around the world including China, Germany, Mexico, USA, Waiuku and Wellington, but has recently decided to make the move back to Christchurch where he grew up.

Portrait of Stevan Eldred-Grigg  © Gareth Watkins 

Stevan Eldred-Grigg

 Pamela Gordon, Chair, Janet Frame Literary Trust