Page 5: Recognition in New Zealand
Frame, Janet Paterson
This biography, written by Patrick Evans, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
The writing of Frame’s late masterwork, her three-volume autobiography, began in Whanganui in 1981 with To the is-land (1982), followed by a second volume, An angel at my table (1984). Volume three, The envoy from mirror city (1985), followed, completing a long project in which Frame successfully expunged the suggestions of mental illness from her life by revealing the evidence of misdiagnosis. The autobiography’s narrative was affirmed in Jane Campion’s film An angel at my table (1990).
Awards and recognition
In August 1983 To the is-land received the Wattie Book of the Year Award, and in October 1983 Frame was invested as CBE. A selection of her stories was published by Victoria University Press as You are now entering the human heart (1983). By the end of that year she had moved to Levin, the setting of her final novel The Carpathians (1988). In June 1984, she was inaugural winner of the Turnovsky Prize for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, and An angel at my table won the New Zealand Book Award for non-fiction. From February to April 1987 she was the Frank Sargeson Fellow in Auckland. In 1989 The Carpathians won another New Zealand Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. In 1990 Frame was invested with the Order of New Zealand.
Although Frame’s three-volume autobiography brought her a wider audience, her stature as a writer of fiction had long been recognised, both overseas and among followers in New Zealand. For more than 20 years Frame had been annually nominated by PEN (the New Zealand Society of Authors) for the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was shortlisted twice, the second time in 2003, the year she was diagnosed with leukaemia. That year, along with Hone Tuwhare and her biographer Michael King, Frame was the recipient of an inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement.
Illness and last years
From March 1988, Frame had lived in an isolated farmhouse near Shannon, not far from Levin, but in December 1989, concerned about her health, she moved to Palmerston North. In June the following year she suffered a stroke, and in March 1992 was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Michael King suggested in his biography of Frame that the successful operation for cancer enabled her to confront and overcome the fear of death that had driven her writing, and that this explained the subsequent decline in her writing activities. Late in 1995, again following her sister and family, Frame moved to Avondale in Auckland. She moved to St Clair in South Dunedin in 1997 and, in April 1999, to St Kilda.
Janet Frame died in Dunedin on 29 January 2004. A collection of poems, The goose bath (2006), and a novel first written in 1963, Towards another summer (2007), were published posthumously.