Wednesday, December 7, 2022

John Summers receives 2022 Janet Frame Award for Prose

Janet Frame Literary Trust

Award Celebrates 70th Anniversary of Janet Frame's Most Famous Prize

Wellington writer John Summers will this week receive the 2022 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award for Imaginative Prose, worth $7000. John Summers has published two books of short non-fiction, The Mermaid Boy (2015) and The Commercial Hotel (2021). His writing has appeared in many publications and reviewers have used words such as ‘dazzling’, ‘breath-taking’, ‘sparkling and enduring’ to describe his genre-defying blend of essay, reportage and memoir delivered with the literary finesse of an accomplished short story. 

Janet Frame Literary Trust Chair Pamela Gordon compared the way that at his best John Summers raises non-fiction writing to the level of an art form, to Janet Frame’s own aspiration to do the same.  ‘Autobiography is found fiction’, said Janet Frame. The writer has applied the techniques of fiction writing to their true stories.

John Summers responded: ‘This award is extremely encouraging. A bolt from the blue that says keep writing, we like what you’re doing. It’s hard to overstate such a thing when, for the most part, writing is the act of sitting alone at a laptop. I am especially honoured to find myself amongst the talented people that have received this award, and that it comes in memory of Janet Frame, an incredible, original talent whose work has been important to me.’

Just before Christmas in 1952 Janet Frame received the life changing Hubert Church Award for the ‘Best Prose by a New Zealander’ for her first book The Lagoon and Other Stories (1952). Notoriously Frame was languishing in a mental hospital, misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and only days away from a scheduled lobotomy. When the superintendent read a news report about the accolade he decided to cancel the operation. Out of gratitude for the support and encouragement she had received from the many honours bestowed on her during her long career Janet Frame founded the Janet Frame Literary Trust and bequeathed an endowment fund out of which awards could be given to New Zealand writers. The 2022 award commemorates the 70th anniversary of the date the certificate was signed by PEN New Zealand: December 10th 1952.

For more information see:

Photo credit for portrait of John Summers: Ebony Lamb

THE COMMERCIAL HOTEL is published by Te Herenga Waka University Press

 Authorised by Pamela Gordon
Chair, Janet Frame Literary Trust

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

70th Anniversary of THE LAGOON & Other Stories

2022 marks the 70th Anniversary of the publication of Janet Frame's first book THE LAGOON AND OTHER STORIES in 1952. The first edition was printed with the incorrect publication date "1951" on the imprint page and to this day that mistake is widely perpetuated. Publisher Denis Glover had accepted the manuscript five years beforehand, in early 1947, but until he left Caxton Press in November 1951 the brilliant stories languished on a corner of his desk. Since 1952 almost every story in the book has been anthologised many times and the book itself is much admired and loved around the world. Pictured: some editions and translations. Some of the best known stories (every fan has their own favourite) are: The Lagoon, Swans, My Cousins who Could Eat Cooked Turnips, The Day of the Sheep, Keel and Kool, My Last Story, The Pictures, The Birds Began to Sing, Miss Gibson and the Lumber Room, A Note on the Russian War, My Father's Best Suit... which do you like best?

Saturday, February 26, 2022

"War comes whatever you sing" ~ Janet Frame


By Janet Frame
(First published in The Lagoon and other Stories, 1952)

The sunflowers got us, the black seeds stuck in our hair, my mother went about saying in a high voice like the wind sunflowers kiddies, ah sunflowers.

We lived on the Steppes, my mother and the rest of my family and I, but mostly my mother because she was bigger than the rest. She stood outside in the sun. She held a sunflower in her hand. It was the biggest, blackest sunflower in Russia, and my mother said over and over again ah sunflowers.

I shall never forget being in Russia. We wore big high boots in the winter, and in the summer we went barefoot and wriggled our toes in the mud whenever it rained, and when there was snow on the ground we went outside under the trees to sing a Russian song, it went like this, I'm singing it to myself so you can't hear, tra-tra-tra, something about sunflowers and a tall sky and the war rolling through the grass, tra-tra-tra, it was a very nice song that we sang.

In space and time.

There are no lands outside, they are fenced inside us, a fence of being and we are the world my mother told us ⁰we are Russian because we have this sunflower in our garden.

It grew in those days near the cow-byre and the potato patch. It was a little plant with a few little black seeds sometimes, and a scraggy flower with a black heart, like a big daisy only yellow and black, but it was too tall for us to see properly, the daisies were nearer our size.

All day on the lawn we made daisy chains and buttercup chains, sticking our teeth through the bitter stems.

All day on the lawn, don't you remember the smell of them, the new white daisies, you stuff your face amongst them and you put the buttercups under your chin to see if you love butter, and you do love butter anyway so what's the use, but the yellow shadow is Real Proof, Oh you love early, sitting amongst the wet painted buttercups.

And then out of the spring and summer days the War came. An ordinary war like the Hundred Years or the Wars of the Roses or the Great War where my father went and sang Tipperary. All of the soldiers on my father's side sang Tipperary, it was to show they were getting somewhere, and the louder they sang it the more sure they felt about getting there.

And the louder they sang it the more scared they felt inside.

Well in the Russian War we didn't sing Tipperary or Pack up your Troubles or There's a Long Long Trail A-Winding.

We had sunflowers by the fence near where the fat white cow got milked. We had big high boots in winter.

We were just Russian children on the Steppes, singing tra-tra-tra, quietly with our mother and father, but war comes whatever you sing.