Thursday, November 07, 2013

Vanda Symon launches Janet Frame's The Mijo Tree at UBS, Otago

I was delighted to be asked by Pamela Gordon and the Janet Frame Literary Trust to launch The Mijo Tree. I confess it is only in recent years I have discovered the works of Janet Frame. At high school while my friends were busy devouring her works and holding intense lunchtime conversations discussing her writing, I was busy devouring murder mysteries and crime. You are what you read, they say. I came to love Janet through her more recently published works, works introduced to the world through the hard work of the Trust, Towards Another Summer, In her Own Words, Gorse is Not People and only very recently the glorious In The Memorial Room.

But every time I think I am getting to know her beautiful writing, her humour and wit, her social commentary, that I’m getting a handle on her incredible craft of the language, her ability to poke fun at herself, she throws me a surprise. And she has done it again with The Mijo Tree.

Janet Frame has written a small and perfectly formed fable, but one that packs a punch. It is beautiful, thought provoking, and dark, gloriously dark. I feel enriched for having read it.

Congratulations must go to The Janet Frame Literary Trust and Penguin New Zealand for the exquisite care they have taken with this book. Pamela Gordon’s afterword provides many aha moments. The Illustrations by Deidre Copeland are stunning and capture perfectly the undertones of the story. In fact everything about this book is beautiful, from the feel of the hardback cover as you stroke it, fingertips sensing the indentation of the type, and the silky thickness of the paper, to the way the edges are patterned by the illustrative borders. They have taken these wonderful words of Janet Frame and crafted them into a stunning object, something tactile, delicious and a book to be very proud of.

So it is with great pleasure that I launch Janet Frame’s The Mijo Tree into the world – that we release it into the wind and may it travel on warm currents and find the perfect place to rest and germinate in the minds and imaginations of its readers.  

Vanda Symon - 6 November 2013

The Mijo Tree is a haunting story about a little mijo seed who longs to live a life of independence, away from the valley of her birth, high on the hill overlooking the sea. She is swept off her feet by a lovesick wind and realises her dream. However this dream becomes a nightmare and she withers, but not before she produces a perfect purple blossom; the seed of new life and hope.

Janet Paterson Frame (1924–2004) is New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed and distinguished author. She received numerous awards, prizes, grants, fellowships and scholarships in New Zealand and abroad, including honorary doctorates from the universities of Otago and Waikato. In 1983 she was awarded a CBE for services to literature, and in 1990 was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand, the country’s highest civil honour. In her lifetime, Janet Frame published eleven novels, four collections of short stories, a book of poetry, a children’s book and three volumes of autobiography. Another two novels, a book of poetry, a volume of new stories and a non-fiction collection have since been published posthumously. The Mijo Tree is a fable written during Frame’s time in Ibiza, 1956–1957.

Deidre (Dee) Copeland has travelled the world working as an illustrator, teacher, photographer and painter. Major art awards, extensive media coverage and a growing list of patrons have confirmed Deidre as one of New Zealand’s top portrait painters. She was born on a sheep farm in rural Southland and now lives with her family in Central Otago where she paints full-time from her studio-church in Cromwell. She illustrated the children’s picture book Moon Cow by Kyle Mewburn.

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