A funny sort of pride
This is an unusual issue of New Zealand Books, dominated by the loss of two of our pre-eminent writers. When Janet Frame died in January, we decided to commemorate her achievement in this June issue with substantial essays on her life and work by two noted commentators, Patrick Evans and Kim Worthington. Then in March Frame’s friend and biographer, the historian Michael King died suddenly in shocking circumstances. This prompted us to commission an essay on his huge contribution to our cultural life from fellow-historian Jock Phillips.
Hardly had we begun to plan the rest of the issue than C K Stead, Fleur Adcock and Jan Kemp offered us poems on Frame and on King. We thank the poets for their generosity and are proud to include these more personal tributes.
People often talk about the divisive back-stabbing nature of the writing community, and sometimes they’re right. But whenever a much-loved literary figure dies, the sense of belonging to a kind of family strikes us all, writers and readers alike. We may brawl and squabble but when one of us is snatched away, we grieve together.
The late Lauris Edmond, whose death in 2001 was widely mourned, perfectly understood this awareness of shared loss. As she observed in Talking About Ourselves:
There are occasions when you see that [writers] do all feel some common purpose … I’ve been to funerals of writers and I’ve felt very moved – not just by the personal loss … but by some sense that, as people with artistic standards that we take seriously, we recognise a sort of responsibility. Not just to ourselves but almost to one another, and to a wider public. There’s a funny sort of pride at such moments, in the dignity of our craft, in the work we each contribute to a common end. Is this an absurdly romantic notion? I don’t think so.
Neither do we.
Harry Ricketts and Jane Westaway