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Why have I annoyed people here? Partly because I don’t have many brakes….If I see something I feel inclined to criticise, I tend not to think very carefully about who is going to be offended

C.K. Stead is one of New Zealand’s foremost literary figures. Here he is interviewed for the Cultural Icons programme by arts curator, presenter, social commentator and writer, Hamish Keith.

Commencing the conversation with a discussion on ‘place’ within language and literature, C.K. and Hamish shift easily into sharing vivid memories of discovering the New Zealand vernacular in literature; of C.K. being charmed by Rupert Brooke’s poetry: “Almost immediately I began to write imitations of Rupert Brooke….my life had a direction from then on, there was something that was more important than anything else”; and of reminiscences of Auckland during the Japanese War.

The conversation takes in C.K’s involvement with the (predominantly North Shore) literature scene, which included such literary luminaries as Frank Sargeson, ARD Fairburn, Janet Frame and Alan Curnow, and the life-shaping experiences from this time: “Being the Britain of the South Seas was the NZ identity I’d grown up with…the writers, artists and intellectuals stood apart from that, criticised it, and so making common cause with them for me was temperamentally acceptable and desirable”.

The two also confront some of the criticisms of C.K’s writing and in a broader sense, the nature of criticism in NZ. “Obviously I’m irritating people all the time…what that means I guess is that I lack diplomacy…that’s good and bad”.

C.K. Stead is a distinguished novelist, literary critic, poet, essayist and emeritus professor of English of the University of Auckland. Stead has won and been nominated for many prestigious awards and fellowships, including the Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship in 2005. Stead was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 2007. He is one of only two living NZ writers to hold the ONZ (Order of NZ), NZ’s highest honour. (NZ Book Council)

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