Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Writing on the Shore

Here's the outline, a short and rough one at the moment, of a course which I've applied to teach as part of a community education programme on the North Shore next year. I've added some hyperlinks for folks who want to find out more about the writers I mention.

Course Proposal: North Shore writers and New Zealand history

Key lessons include:

Why the Shore?
For more than half a century, the North Shore of Auckland has been home to some of New Zealand's best poets, novelists, and short story writers. In the nineteen thirties, forties, and fifties Frank Sargeson ran an informal literary colony around his home in Takapuna, mentoring young writers like Janet Frame and CK Stead. Today, the North Shore literary tradition is carried on by writers like Michelle Leggott, Kevin Ireland, and Jack Ross. This lesson gives an overview of the Shore's rich literary history and suggests some reasons suburbs like Takapuna and Devonport have been home to so many distinguished writers.

Frank Sargeson - a literary pioneer
For more than forty years Frank Sargeson lived in poverty in a bachin Takapuna, growing his own food and writing short stories and novels that helped put New Zealand on the map of world literature. Decades before Barry Crump, Sargeson had become the first writer to capture the way that Kiwis, and working class Kiwis in particular, spoke to each other. Persecuted for his homosexuality and ridiculed for his poverty, Sargeson was determined to write about New Zealand subjects in New Zealand language, and his perserverance has made his writing a sort of time capsule of a culture which has now largely vanished.

Janet Frame - writing on the edge
Writing in a shed in Frank Sargeson's back yard in the 1950s, Janet Frame produced a series of harrowing and beautiful novels and short stories which documented her experiences as a shy, sensitive young woman trapped in New Zealand's Victorian mental health system. Frame's writing opens up for us a world which existed before the rise of feminism and the reform of mental health care - a world dominated by men who held frighteningly bigoted attitudes towards women and the mentally ill, and women who resisted the narrow lives forced on them by a conservative society.

Maurice Duggan - between two worlds
Maurice Duggan is one of New Zealand literature's most extraordinary characters. Raised on the Shore in a tight-knit working class Irish Catholic community, he was a rugged young man who excelled at rugby and cycling. A freak rugby injury cost him a leg shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, and he endured great guilt at not being able to join the fight against fascism. Turning to writing, Duggan made contact with Frank Sargeson and his circle of Bohemian writers on the Shore, and reinvented himself as a man of letters. In his beautifully written stories Duggan tries to bridge the gap between the sophisticated European culture he acquired from Sargeson and the raw, rough, earthy New Zealand life
he had loved before his injury.

Kendrick Smithyman - a Pakeha Maori?
Kendrick Smithyman was New Zealand's most prolific poets. From the forties up until his death in 1995 he wrote thousands of works, most of them set in the North Auckland region where he lived for most of his life. Unusually for a Pakeha writer of his generation, Smithyman turned often to Maori history, culture, and mythology for inspiration. His last book was an epic poem about the Northland prophet Papahurihia, and other poems consider figures like Hone Heke and events like the Waikato Wars. Smithyman's work gives us a unique insight into Pakeha-Maori relations, and into the history of North Shore and other parts of New Zealand.

Jack Ross - the voice of the new North Shore?
With over a dozen books to his name already, Jack Ross is one of the fastest-rising young stars of New Zealand literature. Ross has lived most of his life in Mairangi Bay, and he often writes about life on the Shore. But where writers like Sargeson and Frame described the old, semi-rural, traditionally New Zealand Shore, Ross writes about the 'new' North Shore - a sprawling twenty-first century city of shopping malls and housing developments. Ross's stories and poems are full of such modern maladies as obscene text messages, graffitti, and traffic jams. In a way, Ross is as much a pioneer as Frank Sargeson.


Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Maps - sounds like great course and a great experience for you - good on you!

9:53 pm  

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