Saturday, May 22, 2021

From the Archives: Top Poetry Prize Presented Posthumously (July 2007)

Janet Frame wins the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry

When Janet Frame died in January 2004 she had been unable to complete the arrangements to publish a book of poems she had been working on for some time. The compiling of The Goose Bath was taken over and completed after her death by her literary executors with the assistance of eminent poet Bill Manhire. Not long before her death, while Frame and Manhire were both visiting Gore to attend an event at the East Otago Museum, Janet Frame asked Bill Manhire if he would help with the selection of poems for the new book, which she had already named The Goose Bath. The work was a part time labour of love by the editors, fitted into the demands of teaching, travel, fellowships and other commitments. Two years later (January 2006) the book was finally at the printers, and as such it qualified for entry to the Montana NZ Book Awards, which had long allowed a period of grace of two years after an author's death during which a posthumously published book already in progress at the time of death, is eligible for nomination for an award category. This period of grace for a recently deceased author has been invoked before, most notably when the popular historian Dr Michael King won two posthumous cash prizes (including "Reviewer of the Year") after his untimely death. In 2007 two books by deceased authors were named as finalists in the Book awards: Janet Frame's The Goose Bath, and Cowboy Dog, a posthumously published novel by Nigel Cox, another sadly mourned author. Cowboy Dog went on to win a cash prize as a runner up in the Fiction category. 


Having been named as a finalist, Janet Frame then won the poetry category of the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards for her collection, The Goose Bath, three years after her death. As she was a previous recipient of NZ Book Awards (twice for fiction, twice for non fiction, and twice for Book of the Year) the win confirmed her place as one of New Zealand's most versatile writers. Janet Frame's prize of $5,000 was used by the Janet Frame Literary Trust to benefit other New Zealand writers. 


The win for The Goose Bath was announced on Montana Poetry Day, 27 July 2007, and the award presented at a gala dinner on 30 July 2007. Montana New Zealand Book Awards judges’ convenor, Dr Paul Millar, says Frame’s edge is as we should expect, her use of inventive, imaginative and memorable language. ‘She steps lightly and precisely across the surface of the swamp of words… She is also highly original.’ 


Janet Frame's literary executor Pamela Gordon spoke about the win to Lynn Freeman on National Radio's Arts on Sunday (Sunday 29 July 2007). Gordon said that in her opinion the best thing about the posthumous recognition for the quality of her aunt's new poetry book was that the award would serve to remind New Zealanders that the famous author, who is a household name in their country, first became well known not because of her inspiring life story, but because she was quite simply a remarkably good writer. "I hope that the Montana publicity encourages some new Kiwi readers to look past the myths about Janet Frame and to pick up one of her books and find out for themselves why she was able to build such a huge reputation for her writing."

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