New directions in the 1930s - New Zealand literature


The 1930s saw the emergence in New Zealand of a new breed of writers, whose work usually embodied a reaction against established ideas and conventions. Often these writers were influenced by recent trends in literature overseas, notably modernism; and by social and political events such as the Depression. A growing, if narrow, sense of nationalism was expressed, focussing on the dilemma of Pakeha who still looked to England as 'Home', but increasingly identified with New Zealand through ties of kinship and daily experience. Some major literary figures of the thirties, including short story writer Frank Sargeson, poets Allen Curnow, A.R.D. Fairburn, Denis Glover and R.A.K. Mason, and Glover's printer associate Bob Lowry, remained active in the 1940s and 50s.

The university influence

During the decade some significant changes occurred in the literary scene. More and more, those engaged in literary pursuits began to be associated with academia, rather than journalism as had previously been the case. Several magazines publishing new writing were founded by university staff and students; the most prominent of these was Phoenix, an Auckland University publication. The influential Christchurch periodical, Tomorrow, received strong university support.

The growth of publishing

It became somewhat easier for New Zealand writers to be published. Several innovative small publishing enterprises, notably the Caxton Press in Christchurch, and the Unicorn Press in Auckland, provided alternatives to the mainstream local firms of Whitcombe and Tombs and A.H. & A.W. Reed. And the New Zealand Listener, which developed into an important forum for debate and creative writing, was established in 1939. The first Labour Government's support for literature and scholarship was shown in funding for a series of historical and critical publications to mark the country's centennial in 1940; this provided recognition as well as employment for a number of writers, historians and critics.

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