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NZ literature champion retires after four decades

NZ literature champion retires after four decades

University of Canterbury Emeritus Professor Patrick Evans, who was instrumental in legitimising New Zealand literature, has officially retired following a significant career spanning over four decades.

Professor Patrick Evans specialised in New Zealand Literature and Creative Composition, and published more than 37 scholarly and creative works, including four novels and a number of plays that have been performed in New Zealand and Australia.

He joined the University of Canterbury (UC) as an English tutor at the start of 1970, gaining a tenured position in 1973. His initial research became a life-long interest in New Zealand writer Janet Frame (An Inward Sun, Wellington 1971), with additional works on the author following, including the first biography of the writer Janet Frame (Boston, 1977), which examined her fiction to date. He also wrote The Penguin History of New Zealand Literature (1990), which was the first history of fiction and poetry to be published in New Zealand.

His short fiction, The Back of His Head (Wellington, 2013), was a finalist in the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards earlier this month, and in 2002 his essay on Allen Curnow won the Landfall essay prize. However, it is his novel Gifted (Wellington, 2011), about an imagined flatting relationship between New Zealand authors Janet Frame and Frank Sargeson, of which he is most proud.

Generations of UC students have benefited from his sense of humour and his ability to engage with students and connect them with their studies.

“The reason I teach is because of what I call ‘the romance of the classroom’ – that moment when the penny drops. It’s magic,” Professor Evans says.

Head of UC’s School of Humanities and Creative Arts, Professor Paul Millar says Emeritus Professor Evans’ teaching has been characterised by deep knowledge, meticulous preparation, passion for his subject, irreverent humour and questioning of received wisdom.

“He has applied these same qualities to his research, in particular a number of important books and articles on aspects of New Zealand literature from a perspective that challenges many of the assumptions of New Zealand’s dominant literary culture. What gives Patrick’s alternative perspective great weight is that he has never been an academic who says ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ His teaching and scholarship about writing has been complemented and augmented by a successful career as a creative writer of plays and novels. In over four decades as an academic Professor Patrick Evans has taught English Literature to tens of thousands of students.

“As a researcher, teacher, writer, colleague, mentor, friend, Patrick Evans will be greatly missed. Fortunately the University has honoured him with the title Emeritus Professor, meaning he will remain a close member of our academic family, and we’ll continue to enjoy his wisdom, his support and his friendship.”

UC College of Arts Pro-Vice-Chancellor Dr Jonathan LeCocq says that Professor Evans’ retirement was the end of an era not just for the University’s English department but also for New Zealand literature.

“Patrick is gifted with the rare ability to both light up the page with his writing and illuminate young minds with his academic teaching. His influence on generations of UC students, championship of New Zealand fiction and impact on the New Zealand literary world over the last four decades is immeasurable and long-lasting.”


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