Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Plume of Bees, a literary biography of C.K. Stead, is launched

When writer and reviewer Steve Braunias heard that Judith Dell Panny had decided to write a literary biography of C.K. Stead, he told her, ‘rather you than me’. Last night at the book’s launch at Takapuna Library he said that while it was a literary biography, it could also be described as a brief history on New Zealand argument. To enter into that argument required a particular quality – a ‘Steadiness’.

“It’s a name which looms large in our literature, it casts various shadows, it crackles with assorted resonances. Dell’s calm approach is to say ‘Very well, let’s examine some of these shadows, let’s confront this looming and also let’s stand aside and look carefully at what really counts here – the work.’”

A pattern tended to run through the book where Stead’s work was often reviewed badly or tepidly in New Zealand and glowingly in the UK. Were New Zealand critics reviewing the man and not the work, he asked? Dell achieved something intimate, intelligently and carefully assessing Karl’s work and brought his exceptional talent back home.

Dell Panny said in studying the literary work, she had searched for clues as to what kind of man C.K. Stead might be. Stead was the author of a remarkable literary output and a man often stung because of his refusal to be politically correct and because he did not hesitate to review work of fellow NZ authors, not always favorably. And often he replied to criticism or attacks on himself with devastating wit and accuracy. These were matters which affected the reception of his work in his home country.
About 70 people attended the launch introduced by the publisher, Christine Cole Catley.

Photo left: C.K. Stead’s son, Oliver Stead with author Judith Dell Panny and publisher Christine Cole Catley

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