Take a trip through some of NZ’s literary history

June 28, 2014
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Anthology of New Zealand Literature, edited by Jane Stafford and Mark Williams (Auckland University Press, RRP $75):

This massive tome will likely be the biggest book you’ll buy this year and if you are going to spend $75 on a book, what could be better than an anthology of all that New Zealand literature has to offer?

And at first glance, this nearly 1200 page monster looks to be good value, with the publishers proudly proclaiming it covers everything from Polynesian Mythology to the Yates’ Garden Guide, from Allen Curnow to Alice Tawhai, from Jessie Mackay to Alison Wong, from Julius Vogel to Albert Wendt, from the letters of Wiremu Te Rangikaheke to the notebooks of Katherine Mansfield.

There are songs, baking tips, journal entries, fiction and non fiction, poetry and songs and much more in what is on the surface a fantastic trip through our literary history.

However, some reviewers have highlighted the fact that there are also some significant gaps in this anthology and I’m inclined to agree.

In some cases, this wasn’t the fault of the editors: author Alan Duff and poet Vincent O’Sullivan both decline permission to allow their work to be included and the trust that owns the rights to Janet Frame’s works couldn’t reach an agreement with the publishers on just how her work would be used.

Other exclusions, though, are a little harder to explain. In an anthology of New Zealand literature, how is it possible to have nothing from Michael King, Dame Ngaio Marsh or Sir James McNeish?

There is no doubt this book has been a huge undertaking and also no doubt that there would always be someone missed out, but in this case some of those omissions are huge.

When looking back over 200 years of New Zealand literature, there is a wealth of words to choose from and perhaps this could have been tagged volume 1.

Jillian Allison-Aitken

I come from the other land down under, where men are men, and sheep are nervous. I'm a sub-editor and in the past have been a proof-reader, news editor and web editor. I am also an ex-columnist, and book and software reviewer for the local daily newspaper.I still read. A lot. And surf the web. Also a lot.You'll find a little about both of those pastimes here, and on By George.

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