in at just under two kg, containing almost 1200 pages, this
volume is a big book in several senses: not only is it
physically the biggest book to be published in New Zealand
last year, but it has also aroused considerable discussion in
print, online and on the air, especially concerning who is in
and who is out.
The cover and title page, with Anthology of New Zealand
Literature in large print in three lines and the
preceding The Auckland University Press in small type on a
single line above it, imply its status as the first and only
anthology to attempt to represent all of New Zealand
literature in English in all genres from 1769 to 2011.
As such, it has guaranteed readership of university students
taking a survey paper on New Zealand literature, and it is
unlikely to have any rival for some years. But the publisher
hopes for a wider audience: Sam Elworthy, director of The
Auckland University Press, told Andrew Stone of the New
Zealand Herald that despite the $75 price, he ''was confident
the book would find an eager audience'', and cited the
best-selling 2009 Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian
Leaving aside the question of how useful the book could be as
an academic text, we can concentrate on the question of what
the general reader with an interest in New Zealand literature
might receive for $75.
One thing the reader will not receive is any writing by Janet
Frame, Vincent O'Sullivan, and Alan Duff. The editors had
selected texts for all of them but were refused permission to
publish them. Duff gave no reason for his refusal, but the
other two refusals relate to the editors' principles of
selection and arrangement.
To represent Frame's work the editors had selected some poems
and some extracts from the novels and autobiographies and had
planned also to seek permission to use a passage from the
posthumously published novel Towards Another Summer as
opening epigraph, but the Janet Frame Literary Trust would
not allow publishing of any extracts from longer works but
only complete short stories, poems and non-fiction texts.
Since the editors included in the anthology no full-length
novels or autobiographies or plays, but only extracts, there
seems to have been an irreconcilable clash between the
editorial principles and the trust's policies. O'Sullivan, on
the other hand, seems to have disliked what he called the
''narrow and prescriptive'' grouping of the selections under
themes chosen by the editors.
Again there seemed to be a disagreement about a central
principle of arrangement, for while the anthology is divided
on historical grounds into 11 somewhat overlapping periods
(given suggestive titles), ranging from ''Contact''
(1769-1835) to ''How to Live Elsewhere'' (2000-2011), the
sub-sections are organised by theme and given descriptive or
allusive titles such as ''A Dying Race?'' or ''Memory and
Whatever the reasons for their absence, the anthology is the
poorer for the lack of texts by Frame, O'Sullivan and Duff.
Otherwise the selection of authors is reasonably inclusive
and admirably balanced. Of the 97 poets represented in the
Oxford Anthology of New Zealand Poetry (of which
Williams was a co-editor) , 73 are represented here. In
addition there are about 25 poets included that were not in
the Oxford - mostly ones who have published mainly since
1990, plus a few very early ones. Of the 45 short-story
writers represented in O'Sullivan's 1992 The Oxford Book
of New Zealand Short Stories, 31 are represented here,
while Stafford and Williams have included 10 writers not
included in the Oxford. Some significant names are missing,
such as poets W. H. Oliver and Michael Jackson, or
short-story writers Roderick Finlayson and Charlotte
Grimshaw, but as a collection of New Zealand poems and short
stories the anthology touches most of the bases.
The coverage of non-fiction is more sketchy: of the 28
authors included in Alex Calder's 1993 anthology, The
Writing of New Zealand: Inventions and Identities, only
nine are represented in the new anthology. However, the
borders of literary non-fiction are relatively undefined, and
Stafford and Williams have selected several texts not
previously anthologised, even drawing on letters to
newspapers or ''Worser'' Heberley's previously unpublished
There seems to have been no attempt to represent all the most
significant non-fiction writers, but rather to select
material that will supplement fiction and poetry in
presenting themes. Nevertheless, some of their most striking
texts are extracts from non-fictional works such as Archibald
Baxter's We Will Not Cease or Geoff Park's Ngai
Uruora - The Groves of Life.
Drama has been treated similarly, with only a few playwrights
represented, but with extracts chosen that fit neatly into
thematic sub-sections, such as the titular speech from Greg
McGee's Foreskin's Lament slotted into the ironically
titled ''National Anthems'' sub-section (the speech's
climactic ''Whaddarya'' provides the title for the
entire 1980s section) or a scene from Jacob Rajan's
Krishnan's Dairy slotted into an ethnically and
culturally mixed group of 1990s texts dealing with ''Love''.
Aside from the big hole left by the absence of Frame,
novelists are well-represented. The 45 extracts selected,
drawn from 44 different novels by 38 different writers,
represent the majority of significant New Zealand novelists,
with no evident bias as to gender, ethnicity or mode. The
selection is heavily weighted towards the past 50 years, but
that is because the number of New Zealand novels published
has grown greatly during those years.
Inevitably there are names missing that I would like to have
seen included - George Chamier, Jane Mander (who is
represented by an essay), Dan Davin (who is represented by a
short story), James McNeish (who is unfortunately also not
represented by any of his creative non-fiction), Joy Cowley
and Phillip Temple come to mind, but each reader of New
Zealand fiction will have his or her own list.
Nevertheless, the extracts from an impressive range of novels
are a strong feature of the anthology, not least because of
the artful selection and arrangement that fits them in
appropriate thematic sub-sections next to related poems,
short stories, and extracts from plays and non-fictional
That deployment of all the texts in thematic sub-sections is
the most interesting aspect of the anthology. There is some
loss in not arranging them by author - for example, the seven
different stories by Frank Sargeson appear in five different
sections, and it is only by using the index that the reader
can link them.
Likewise, since there is no arrangement by genre, any reader
would have a difficult time trying to piece together the
narrative of, say, the development of the New Zealand novel.
But the demands of chronology are at least minimally met by
the large historical sections, and the grouping of works in
thematic sub-sections within them encourages the reader to
make connections among the texts from different authors and
genres treating the same theme in the same historical period.
From the first sub-section,''The Uncultured Shore'', the
editors' artfulness is evident in their grouping of the aged
Te Horeta's 1852 account of his childhood memories of Captain
Cook's 1769 visit with extracts from Cook's log concerning
the visit and with an extract from John Savage's 1807 Some
Account of New Zealand giving his impression of the Maori.
The artful mixing of texts from different genres is evident
in the later sub-sections such as ''At the Beach'' in the
''Between the Wars'' section, where Katherine Mansfield's
long story At the Bay is paired with Robin Hyde's seven-poem
lyric sequence The Beaches, followed by Eileen Duggan's brief
lyric The Tides Run Up the Wairau and Len Lye's short prose
poem Dazing Daylight.
Extracts from novels can be fit effectively with poetry, as
in the ''Imagining the Other'' sub-section of the ''From Kiwi
Culture to Counter-Culture'' section, when the first three
chapters of Part One of Noel Hilliard's Maori Girl are
juxtaposed with James K. Baxter's The Maori Jesus, an extract
from the Arahura whitebaiting sequence involving Arty
Nicholson and Joe Taira in Bill Pearson's Coal Flat
and Rod Derrett's wonderfully politically incorrect lyrics to
his song, Puha and Pakeha - all from the first half of
the 1960s. The anthology is filled with suggestions to make
such fascinating connections of texts which, in the editors'
terms, ''converse with each other''.
Sturdily bound and nicely printed, made up of well-chosen
imaginatively arranged texts covering something approaching
the full range of New Zealand literature, accompanied by
brief, suggestive introductions to the whole and to each
historical section (but without any intrusive notes), good
bibliographies, and brief biographical outlines, the book
will be good for browsing, will be a useful reference work,
will encourage the making of many interesting literary
connections, will serve as a useful (but not complete) guide
to further reading, and, inevitably, will be a spur to good
literary arguments as to inclusions and exclusions. For the
right readers, the $75 might be money well spent.
Lawrence Jones is an emeritus professor of