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C.K. Stead awarded Michael King Fellowship

C.K. Stead awarded Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship

A novel told through the eyes of Judas Iscariot is one of three projects that Auckland writer C.K. Stead will be working on as this year’s recipient of the $100,000 Creative New Zealand Michael King Fellowship.

The Creative New Zealand Writers’ Fellowship was established in 2003 to support senior writers wishing to work on a major project over at least two years. It was renamed last year in recognition of the late Dr Michael King, his contribution to literature and his role in advocating for a major fellowship for New Zealand writers. It is the largest writing fellowship available in New Zealand.

As this year’s recipient, Stead has two other projects lined up. He will compile a collection of his poems from 1951 to 2005 and also work on a memoir of his friendships with Frank Sargeson and Allen Curnow, based around their letters to him.

In the 1950s, Stead was pursuing an academic career at The University of Auckland. At the same time, he was writing poetry and was a protégé of Sargeson and Curnow. His 170 letters from Sargeson, 700 items of correspondence from Curnow and his own letters to them are lodged in the Turnbull Library in Wellington.

“This fellowship is a wonderful opportunity to clear the decks and concentrate totally on the three projects,” Stead says. “The collected poems and memoir have been in my mind for several years but I could only have done them with financial support. The memoir, in particular, will involve a fair amount of research.

“The novel about Judas is a recent idea, which came to me last year after I’d finished the Mansfield novel. But in terms of the writing, it’s at the top of my list and I’m totally absorbed in researching and writing it.”

Mansfield is Stead’s tenth novel. It was a finalist in the 2005 Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize and 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Southeast Asia and South Pacific Region. It is also shortlisted in the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, along with Stead’s latest – and thirteenth - poetry collection, The Red Tram.

Stead was selected as the recipient of the 2005 Creative New Zealand Michael King Fellowship from a line-up of senior New Zealand writers. Applications were assessed by an expert literary panel whose recommendations were forwarded to the Arts Board of Creative New Zealand for the final decision.

Arts Board Chair Alastair Carruthers says the fellowship provides recipients with the gift of time to focus on their writing, take risks and produce outstanding work.

“Karl is a major figure in New Zealand writing and his work is acclaimed both in this country and internationally,” Mr Carruthers says. “His three projects will make a tremendous contribution to New Zealand’s literary canon. The idea of writing a novel in the voice of Judas Iscariot is audacious and shows a writer willing to take risks and venture into compelling new territory.”

Stead’s first poetry collection, Whether the Will is Free, was published in 1964. For his Collected Poems 1951 - 2005, he will work through all 13 collections, making some revisions, adding a new collection and including a selection of early uncollected poems.

“This is a huge project that I’ve very keen to get started on,” he says. “I estimate this will make a book of around 500 pages.”

Stead has won numerous awards and honours in a life of writing. As well as his fiction and poetry, he is a literary critic, essayist and emeritus professor of English from The University of Auckland. One of his six books of literary criticism, The New Poetic, Yeats to Eliot, was published in 1964, has been reprinted many times in Britain and the United States and has sold more than 100,000 copies.

He was awarded the CBE for Services to New Zealand Literature in 1985, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1995, a Visiting Fellow of St John’s Oxford College in 1997, awarded an honorary doctorate in Letters by the University of Bristol in 2001 and elected a Fellow of the English Association in 2004.

Previous recipients of the Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship are Timaru writer Owen Marshall and Wellington writer Vincent O’Sullivan.

C.K. Stead and the recipients of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement 2005 will be celebrated at a special function in late 2005.


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