Winners meeting Mansfield

We were thrilled to show the BNZ Literary Award winners a bit of history – both banking and literary – at the Turnbull Library this week.

The National Library of New Zealand and the Alexander Turnbull Library would like to express warmest congratulations to the winners of the 2014 BNZ Literary Awards. They were announced at a ceremony on Wednesday night – you can find out who won each category on Graham Beattie’s book blog.

This is the longest-running literary award in the country, now in its 55th year. The number of entries was around 3750, about 1000 up on last year, and a continuation of the yearly increase in contestants.

The BNZ’s sustained commitment to fostering and supporting our established and unpublished writers is both heartening and important in a climate where the arts are often seen as a dispensable luxury.

Two worlds colliding?

Creative writing and banking may seem strange bedfellows, but the BNZ has a particularly close historical association with one of the country’s most famous writers through Sir Harold Beauchamp, the father of Katherine Mansfield.

Fiona Oliver and the award winners, discussing collection materials in front of them.Curator Fiona Oliver explains the famously indecipherable handwriting in Katherine Mansfield's notebooks to award winners and their parents. Photo by Llewelyn Jones.

Through his business dealings and political interests, Beauchamp became a friend of Richard Seddon, who, in 1898, appointed him to the board of the BNZ. In 1907 he also became its chairman, remaining so until 1936, two years before his death at the age of 79.

On the afternoon of the awards ceremony the winners and their parents, flown in from around the country, visited the Turnbull Library to see the Katherine Mansfield collections. The collection got started when, after Mansfield’s death, her father offered the library £200 to buy a specially bound set of his daughter’s works. The books began to arrive in 1937, bound in red morocco embossed with gold kowhai and fern leaves designed by Johannes Andersen, the Chief Librarian at that time.

It was to be the beginning of what is now the world’s foremost Mansfield collection. It also marked the start of a new kind of collecting activity – until then, collecting the works of modern New Zealand writers wasn’t seen as suitable for a heritage library. It’s quite a different story today!

Looking at Mansfield

The winners got a rare peek into the stacks, where the published Mansfield collection – which brings together anything by and about the writer, in any language – are stored at a temperature of around -2°. We then headed into the large-format reading room to see a selection of manscripts and curios. The curios are mostly small personal items such as a hand mirror, jewellery, trinket boxes, ornaments and a fan. They are a fascinating, intimate insight into the private person. We checked out her passport, stamped with the names of the many places to which she travelled to find a cure for TB – the advanced state of the disease is quite in evidence in her photograph.

Detail of Katherine Mansfield's passport, showing her photograph and signature.Detail of Katherine Mansfield's passport, between 1919 and 1922. Ref: 1/2-028694-F.

A few letters and a range of her notebooks were also on display, and we traced the creative process, through from notebook jottings to manuscripts (she didn’t cross much out) to printer’s proofs, through to the first edition and onwards, where the published artefact takes on its own life set adrift from its creator, in translations and other editions.

Denise Roughan, Fiona Oliver and the award winners, looking at paintings in the art collection.Assistant Curator Denise Roughan shows us the portrait of Harold Beauchamp in the library's art collection. Photo by Llewelyn Jones.

Our guests seemed to enjoy their visit. Staff at the Turnbull Library are always happy to accommodate requests for tours on any aspects of its collections.

By Fiona Oliver

Fiona is Curator of New Zealand and Pacific Publications at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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