Education Policy | Post Primary | Preschool | Primary | Tertiary | Search


A Lifetime Of Letters – Frank Sargeson

A single pencil-written letter by New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson to the American short story writer Sherwood Anderson was the only prompt Dr Sarah Shieff needed to start compiling a whole book of Sargeson’s letters.

“It was one simple fan letter from one writer to another, so touching and personal, and from that, I wanted to read more,” says Dr Shieff, a senior lecturer in English at the University of Waikato. Four and a half years later, Letters of Frank Sargeson will be formally launched at the University of Waikato Student Centre on March 14.

Dr Shieff tracked down about 6000 Sargeson letters, the majority in Wellington’s Alexander Turnbull Library, and set about selecting 500 of them for the book.

“That was a publishable size and I selected on the basis of biographical and literary interest, historical interest and general liveliness.”

Frank Sargeson, grew up in Hamilton as Norris Frank Davey. Although he is best known for his short stories, he was also a playwright, and an acclaimed novelist and memoirist. The letters show his literary output in an entirely new light.

He wrote letters to friends and lovers, and to prominent and aspiring writers in New Zealand and overseas. They reveal him to be an environmentalist – he made his own compost, and as early as the 1940s objected to the use of chemical fertilisers in farming. In the ‘50s he was deeply opposed to atmospheric nuclear testing. He also appealed to government to award state pensions to poorer writers.

“Frank loved looking after people,” says Dr Shieff. “He made his home available to other writers, and gave away most of what he earned to the shabby older men he was so fond of. But he could also be malicious, gossipy and interfering. He really was a character in his own life story.”

Letters of Frank Sargeson, selected and edited by Sarah Shieff, is published by Random House and retails for $49.99.

Dr Sarah Shieff with her latest book – Letters of Sargeson which will be launched at the University of Waikato next week.



© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland