Thursday, April 15, 2010

In defence of CK Stead

Mea culpa. I had quite forgotten to look at the letters to the editor after the Nigel Cox article on CK Stead (July 1994) reprinted below. I will try in future to post the letters along with the articles: these are part of the literary record too.

In the September 1994 issue, the one with Ginette McDonald on the cover, we had two letters responding to Cox’s article, the first from Jenny Jones who I think was secretary of the NZ Society of Authors at the time, and the second from my dear departed friend Andrew Mason. As I wrote in my obit, “He could be spiky, even vitriolic. This was amusing if you were on his side but very much not if not. (I’ve been on both.)”
Four pages devoted to CK Stead in your July issue, but never a word from the man himself – and even the graphic was a recycled cartoon. Nigel Cox’s piece contained unsourced assertions, personal judgments and dubious predictions, none made available for comment by the subject. This is the stuff of columns, not journalism - what’s wrong with interviews?
Jenny Jones

A Good Grappling
I am enjoying Nigel Cox’s attempts to grapple with New Zealand’s recent literary history – a worthwhile if thankless task. I do wish, though, you would encourage him not only to get his facts right but to put them in context. In his piece on the rise and fall of CK Stead (July), Cox writes: “Andrew Mason, then literary editor of the Listener, was a good boy too, for organising soft reviews of books by women and dual reviews, one by a Maori and one by a Pakeha, of books with bicultural content.”

In fact, Stead’s charge was much more serious: that I exercised a deliberate bias in choosing reviewers. He wrote: “Andrew Mason... insists that books by women be sympathetically reviewed by women, books by Maoris be sympathetically reviewed by Maoris, while books by Pakeha males can be reviewed by anyone at all, no holds barred.”

The charge was malicious and clearly defamatory. It was also nonsense, as I pointed out at the time, noting for example that the most recent review Stead (a Pakeha male) had done for the Listener was at his request and reviewed two novels by women, one sympathetically and the other unsympathetically, and that the Listener’s most recent review of a book by a Maori woman – surely Stead’s ultimate test case – was not especially sympathetic or unsympathetic and happened to be by another Pakeha male.

Cox mentions none of this. If he is going to raise such matters, I believe he has a duty properly to inform himself – and your readers – of the events he purports to describe, instead of relying on his (obviously faulty) memory. Five minutes in a library would have given him what he should have known he needed.
Andrew Mason

No comments: