Changing of the guard
Independence, Colin James
More than Rogernomics, the recovery of the treaty and the other momentous policy changes, the 1980s was the decade of independence. In that decade the people who make up New Zealand found a voice: fiction, film, dance, a revisiting of history. Pakeha New Zealanders in the 1970s still selfconsciously distinguished themselves from Britain; in the 1990s they are unselfconsciously New Zealand.
Maori were part of that process: a self-confident generation which wrested recognition from their colonisers. In the 1970s to be New Zealand was to be white. In the 1990s no white New Zealander does not have as part of his or her identity the inescapability of cohabitation with Maori. The society of the 1990s is not permitted a colonial mentality.
There are some trappings still: a Briton is our head of state; we have someone else’s flag in a corner of our own; we persist in naming ourselves after a piece of Holland. But they are not the essence.
This independence is the underpinning of New Zealand Books. The new New Zealand is expressed in many ways, from brilliant yacht design to big, bold, luscious wines to very high-technology innovating companies to brilliant film. All that finds its way into books.
And in those books, which pour out each year from a publishing industry that each year I have been told is near disintegration, there is a debate as interesting as you will find anywhere. It is not some dry intellectual discourse. It takes many forms, not least in the stream of novels, short stories, plays and poetry. Uneven, yes, but also irrepressible.
In four years as editor I have been made richer by association with this varied and disputatious outpouring – and by the no-lesser creativity and energy of those who have reviewed (in the best sense of that word) the books and the ideas in them.
I am grateful for that association. I am also grateful to Lynne Dovey who professionalised the subscription system and the administration. We now have an 80% resubscription rate and the subscriber list is growing. There is money in the bank. New Zealand Books will be around a while yet — and to an important extent that is Lynne’s doing.
The new editors
From the next issue New Zealand Books will be edited by Bill Sewell and Harry Ricketts (though for space and deadline reasons, some articles I have commissioned will be in their first issue next March).
Harry and Bill are both experienced editors and are published authors, poets and scholars. In October they jointly edited, with Lauris Edmond, Under Review: A Selection from New Zealand Books 1991-1996.
Harry came to New Zealand in 1981 and is a senior lecturer in the English Department at Victoria University of Wellington. His editorial experience goes back to student days at Oxford where he was the arts editor of Cherwell. While teaching at Leicester University in England he ran two poetry magazines and during the 1980s at Victoria with a group of students brought out the annual Poetry Broadsheet.
He has also edited a number of books including One Lady at Wairakei, Rudyard Kipling’s lost New Zealand story, Talking About Ourselves, a book of interviews with 12 New Zealand poets and Worlds of Katherine Mansfield, a collection of critical essays about Mansfield and her work.
His other publications include a collection of short stories, People Like Us, and four volumes of poems, of which the most recent are How Things Are and A Brief History of New Zealand Literature, both published in 1996. A seasoned reviewer, he is currently writing a biography of Kipling.
Bill comes to New Zealand Books with many years of experience as an editor and writer. After lecturing for some years in German at the University of Otago, where he completed a doctoral dissertation on the poetry of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, he was appointed Robert Burns Fellow in 1981 and 1982. He then joined John McIndoe Ltd as a book editor, before becoming editor of the University of Otago Press in 1986. In both positions he came into contact with a wide range of authors and types of publication.
After a brief period with GP Publications in Wellington in 1988, he decided to take up the study of law, graduating LlB in 1991. Until early 1997 he was a legal researcher at the Law Commission in Wellington, where he developed an expertise in plain legal language and, latterly, became responsible for the publishing programme. He is now a free-lance writer and editor, specialising in legal communication.
Bill is the author of three volumes of poetry — Solo Flight, Wheels Within Wheels, and Making the Far Land Glow — co-writer of A Guide to the Rimutaka Forest Park and has contributed to and edited Sons of the Fathers: New Zealand men write about their fathers, published in November.
Harry and Bill say they will respect the aims and achievements of New Zealand Books since 1991 for in-depth reviewing of important New Zealand publications in all fields of intellectual endeavour, including non-fiction, and for fine critical writing. They intend to ensure New Zealand Books continues to cover a broad spectrum and say changes they will make, some in response to reader expectations, will not alter the journal’s fundamental character.
We erred in the last issue in not making clear to Alan Loney that only two issues of A Brief Description of the Whole World were available to Kim Worthington at the time of her review in the August issue. This meant that much of Loney’s letter was based on a false premise. Our apologies.