Janet Frame is an internationally-renowned New Zealand author of both fiction and non-fiction works. Among her numerous honours, Frame is a Member of the Order of New Zealand, a Nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature and an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She was one of ten New Zealand artists named as Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Artists in 2003. Traumatic childhood events and other life experiences regularly find fictional treatment in her writing - but in reference to her choice of subject matter, Frame warned against the naïve treatment of her fictional creations as autobiography (what she called the ‘blurring of the fine distinction between the writer’s work and the writer’s life’). In 1999, before her death in 2004, she founded the Janet Frame Literary Trust.
Janet Frame has received four Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards: second place for Daughter Buffalo in 1973, first place for To the Is-Land in 1983, third place for An Angel at My Table: An Autobiography, Volume II in 1984, and first place for The Envoy from Mirror City in 1985. She has also received four New Zealand Book Awards: for Living in the Maniatoto (Fiction, 1980), An Angel at My Table: An Autobiography, Volume II (Non-Fiction, 1984), The Envoy from Mirror City (Non-Fiction, 1986), and The Carpathians (Fiction 1989).
Regarding the creation of the semi-fictional characters that feature in her autobiographical text Owls Do Cry (1957), Frame remarked:
'Pictures of great treasures in the midst of sadness and waste haunted me and I began to think, in fiction, of a childhood, home life, hospital life, using people known to me as a base for the main characters, and inventing minor characters... For Daphne I chose a sensitive, poetic, frail person who (I hoped) would give depth to inner worlds and perhaps a clearer, at least an individual, perception of outer worlds. The other characters, similarly fictional, were used to protray aspects of my 'message' - the excessively material outlook of 'Chicks', the confusion of Toby, the earthy make-up of Francie, and the toiling parents, the nearest characters to my own parents.'
She was the 1974 recipient of the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. One of New Zealand's most long-standing and prestigious literary awards, the fellowship is offered annually to enable a New Zealand writer to work in Menton, France.
She was awarded the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship in 1987.
Wrestling with the Angel, an authorised biography of Janet Frame by Michael King, was published in 2000. The biography won the Montana Medal for Nonfiction and the Reader’s Choice Award at the 2001 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. A companion volume (also written/compiled by King) was published in 2002 under the title An Inward Sun: the World of Janet Frame. The pictorial biography reveals in words and pictures the world of Janet Frame as never seen before.
In 2003, Frame was one of ten honoured as a living icon of New Zealand art as part of the biennial Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Awards.
Simone Oettli-van Delden discusses Frame’s life and works in her book Surfaces of Strangeness: Janet Frame and the Rhetoric of Madness (Victoria University Press, 2003), which explores the discourses that surround the concept of madness. Surfaces examines the way in which madness is expressed in literature, with particular attention to the implications for the subjects/characters at the centre of such discourses.
In 2003, Frame was awarded one of the inaugural Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement for Fiction, alongside recipients Michael King of the Coromandel Peninsula for Non-Fiction, and Hone Tuwhare of Kaka Point in South Otago for poetry. Each writer received $60,000. The awards are inended for New Zealand writers who have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature.
Frames novella 'Snowman, Snowman' appeared in Nine New Zealand Novellas, edited by Peter Simpson (Reed, 2005).
A new edition of Mona Minim and the Smell of the Sun was published in 2005 by Random House. The new edition won the 2006 Spectrum Print Design Award for Best Children's Book. Mona Minim was originally published in 1969.
In 2006, The Goose Bath (2006), a posthumous poetry collection of 120 previously unpublished Janet Frame poems, was released. Edited by acclaimed New Zealand poet Bill Manhire, The Goose Bath later received the Montana Award for Poetry at the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Judges’ convenor Dr Paul Millar commented on Frame’s use of inventive, imaginative and memorable language within the poems: ‘She steps lightly and precisely across the surface of the swamp of words…She is also highly original.’
A gorgeous new combined edition of Scented Gardens for the Blind and The Adaptable Man was released in 2007 by Vintage, which is an imprint of Random House New Zealand.
The Janet Frame Memorial Lecture was inaugurated in 2007 by the New Zealand Society of Authors. The annual lecture acts a literary ‘state of the nation’, overviewing and enhancing understanding of New Zealand writing and writers. In 2016, Dunedin-based author Philip Temple gave the lecture.
In 2012, Penguin released a new collection of Frame's work entitled Gorse is Not People. The book contains 28 of Frame’s stories, half of which had never received prior publication.
In 2013, Text Publishing posthumously released Frame’s novel In the Memorial Room, originally written in 1974, the year that Frame spent in Menton on a Katherine Mansfield Fellowship. In the Memorial Room is an imaginative analysis of fictional writer Harry Gill’s troubled and solitary existence as an expatriate in France, with the author drawing inspiration from her own time in Cote d’Azur to craft her characters and narrative.
Frame's never-before-published novella The Mijo Tree was released by Penguin in 2013. Frame wrote this 'darkly beautiful fable' (Penguin Books) during her time in Ibiza, between the years of 1956 and 1957. Themes of childhood, solitude, and the struggle to thrive are veined through the novella, transforming a story about a little Mijo seed into an allegory for human growth.
Janet Frame’s debut novel, Owls Do Cry (Pegasus Press), was announced as the winner of the 2015 Great Kiwi Classic competition. Joining the 2014 Great Kiwi Classic The Bone People (Keri Hulme’s Booker Prize-winning novel), the announcement cements the status of Owls Do Cry as one of New Zealand’s ‘most treasured and classic books’.
NB: Founded in 1999 by Frame herself, The Janet Frame Literary Trust is the charitable trust that controls the author’s literary estate. Upon her death in 2004, Frame bequeathed her copyright to the Trust and specified that the ongoing royalty and other income be used to financially support New Zealand writers of poetry and imaginative fiction. In 2005, the Trust established The Janet Frame Literary Awards, with winners announced on the 28th of August each year to mark Frame's birthday.
Last updated April 2016.
- Janet Frame’s novel Owls Do Cry announced as 2015 Great Kiwi Classic
- There is a bibliography about this author in the Auckland University Library's New Zealand Literature File
- Janet Frame Literary Trust
- NZEDGE Writer Heroes
- Arts Foundation Icon
- NZ Herald Tributes: Janet Frames death
- Janet Frame on the UK Poetry Archive
- Talking Books podcast: the 2015 Great Kiwi Classic – Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame