Editorial – Issue 96

Many Happy Returns!

We’re delighted to be writing the editorial for this 20th anniversary issue of New Zealand Books. It contains the usual excellent reviews, but also new poetry and prose, and reflections from leading writers and those in the book world on reviewing and being reviewed.

The journal was founded by John Mansfield Thomson, Lauris Edmond, Vincent O’Sullivan, Pat Hawthorne, Martin Bond and Shelagh Duckham Cox, who comprised Peppercorn Press. Early issues appeared under Thomson’s editorship. Guest editors, such as Nelson Wattie, Jane Stafford and Paula Wagemaker, succeeded him, before Colin James became editor in 1994. Harry Ricketts and Bill Sewell took over as co-editors in 1998, and on Bill Sewell’s death in 2003, Jane Westaway joined Ricketts as co-editor.

In our December 2005 issue, Tim Hazledine wrote that “the sum of all the reading and talking and engaging with books is an essential contribution to our culture, our civilisation, our sense of nationhood; even to our economic capabilities as an intelligent, well-educated, literate citizenry.” The co-editors and board of NZB are convinced he is right.

Ten years ago, Ricketts and Sewell bemoaned the lack of coverage given to our books, particularly in the mainstream media (March 2001). If anything, accompanied by the “democratising” effect of blogs and other online outlets for “reviews”, this situation has worsened. NZB continues to provide a journal of record, a “place for writers to see their work given a thorough critical treatment”, and a way for readers to take the pulse of our current writing.

Birthday speeches must include thanks. Without the generous support of Creative New Zealand, we simply couldn’t exist. Nor without the authors who write our books, the publishers who produce them, and the writers who review them. Just as important is you, the reader, who cares about these books and who reads NZB. Subscribers are our survival – give a sub for Christmas!

We are deeply appreciative of the support, energy and enthusiasm of the Peppercorn Press board – Elizabeth Caffin, Kathryn Carmody, Anne Else, Kate Fortune and Peter Russell – and of our advertising manager Annesley Kingston. Also grateful thanks to our advertisers. Finally, a special thank-you to our typographer Walter Walraven of Matrix Typography, whose expertise and good humour continue unabated after 15 years.

In that first 1991 editorial, Thomson pointed out that books were “one of our chief cultural assets”, though “undervalued … by economic policy makers”. The journal aimed to “provide a forum for the finest available writing and criticism of books”. It would “stimulate pride and critical concern in New Zealand writing”.

These lofty ideals have been interpreted in various ways by a succession of editors, but we hope Thomson himself would enjoy this anniversary issue.

We’ve marked the occasion by commissioning several opinion pieces on reviewing and being reviewed, as well as new poetry, prose work in progress, and two writers on their favourite childhood books. And on the back page you’ll find a bumper cryptic crossword worth a $75 book token prize.


Harry Ricketts and Jane Westaway

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