Imagining New Zealand/ Aotearoa: A Century of the Short Story
This paper examines the ways that the nation space of New Zealand/Aotearoa is imagined in short stories written over the last century. It will discuss how key writers have shaped images of the country in response to its diverse landscapes, its ‘ends of the earth’ location and different social and ethnic groups; representing the nation in short fiction as a site for voices and communities whose intersecting words and dialogues collectively convey the image of a ‘national family’.
I will make reference to stories translated into Spanish in the volume, UnPais de cuento: Veinterelatos de Nuevo Zelando (‘A Country of Tales: 20 Stories from New Zealand’), published by the University of Zaragoza Press, which I co-edited with the translator, Paloma Fresno Calleja.
I will outline our principles of selection using the categories of gender, ethnicity, region and date, and referring to the New Zealand short story canon as consecrated in anthologies such as Dan Davin’s Classic New Zealand Short Stories (1953), Vincent O’Sullivan’s Oxford Book of New Zealand Short Stories (1978) and Marion McLeod and Bill Manhire’s Some Other Country, 4th ed. (2008).
My discussion of how distinctive images of nation and its borders emerge as the literary tradition developed, will include subsequent redefinitions and reimaginings of the New Zealand imaginary as later writers have built on and reworked familiar locations, incidents and identities, showing continuity as well as change. The limited sales of our volume in the global Spanish-speaking marketplace since its publication in 2014, however, suggest that stories tied to a national brand tend not to attract new, international readerships.
By contrast some recent stories that did not make it into our anthology, that demonstrate global trends and patterns and hence display a more limited national focus, might be better suited to today’s circulation of culture. These literary responses to the demands of the global marketplace may mean more adaptability and flexibility for stories in travelling beyond national borders, but there are consequences: might this also mean long-term a loss of the New Zealand story’s distinctiveness as a local/national production?
Janet Wilson is Professor of English and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Northampton, UK. She formerly taught in the English Department at the University of Otago (1988-98). She has published widely on New Zealand literary and visual culture, in particular on New Zealand expatriate diasporic writers like Fleur Adcock, Katherine Mansfield, and Janet Frame. She has also published a selection of reminiscences of Dan Davin, Intimate Stranger (2000), has edited his Southland stories, The Gorse Blooms Pale (2007) and is currently editing his war stories for Otago University Press. Other research interests include transnational writing, refugee and slum narratives, law, literature and diaspora; she has recently co-edited the Routledge Diaspora Studies Reader (2018). She is Vice-Chair of the Katherine Mansfield Society and co-editor of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing.