Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department.
March 29, 2010
This Week in Fiction: Pamela Gordon on Janet Frame
Posted by The New Yorker
Our fiction offering this week is “Gavin Highly,” by Janet Frame. Recently, Frame’s neice and literary executor, Pamela Gordon, exchanged e-mails with Deborah Treisman, the magazine’s fiction editor.
Janet Frame—who is probably best known in the United States for her autobiography “An Angel at My Table,” though she also wrote a dozen novels and several story collections—died in 2004, at the age of 79.
She published four short stories in the magazine between 1962 and 1970, but then nothing more until 2008, when we ran the first of three posthumous stories by her—this week’s fiction, “Gavin Highly,” being the third.
Why was there such a long gap, and why are these unpublished pieces suddenly coming to light?
The fact is that when she was at her peak, she was so prolific that she had a publishing backlog, and a lot of work got left behind. Once she had moved on, in theme and genre, she lost interest in the older manuscripts. But she carefully preserved the work, arranged for it to be lodged in archives, and she always had a literary executor named and primed to deal with it. She frequently mentioned that she had a generous store of unpublished work. She did draw up several tables of contents toward a collection of the new stories. We don’t know for sure why she never got around to publishing that volume, but I think there were multiple reasons. She didn’t relish her fame, and once she had enough money to live on from the reprints and translations of the twenty or so books she did publish, she seemed to have decided not to expose herself to any more of the trials of fresh publication, even though she never stopped writing. Posthumous publishing is common enough in the history of literature, although the default position of the critics seems to be that posthumous work is by definition going to be inferior to the lifetime oeuvre. But before her death Frame took pains to dispose of a lot of unfinished work that wasn’t up to her standards. I’m conflicted about that because it would have been fascinating to see what didn’t make the grade. But I respect Frame’s artistic agency and I always try to release only the work that is worthy of her reputation.
The delay after her death reflects the priorities of her literary estate as well the size of our workload. I promised Frame on her deathbed that I would get a volume of her poetry published as soon as possible. So first we put together one new collection of poetry—“The Goose Bath” (soon to be available in the U.S. from Bloodaxe Books in the selected edition “Storms Will Tell”); and next we released the novel “Towards Another Summer” (published in America last year by Counterpoint). Only then did we start working through her short stories. We’re also editing a collection of her non-fiction writings and interviews.
Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2010/03/this-week-in-fiction-pamela-gordon-on-janet-frame.html#ixzz0jcZMpity
And to read the story, Gavin Highly, link here.
Illustration for the story from The New Yorker by Gary Baseman.
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