The war and beyond - New Zealand literature

The war years

In some ways war interrupted the work of New Zealand writers; in others it acted as a stimulant. For those who joined the armed forces, such as Eric McCormick, Bruce Mason and Dan Davin, experience of travel and danger gave creative impetus and a new perspective on their country of birth. New Zealand writing gained some international exposure through John Lehmann's Penguin New Writing from 1941. New Zealand New Writing, a local adaptation of this publication produced between 1942 and 1945, was another vehicle for fresh talent.

The belief that New Zealand culture was worthy of serious comment was behind a burst of critical writing, beginning in 1940 with the publication of Eric McCormick's ground-breaking survey Letters and Art in New Zealand. This was closely followed by a wide-ranging series of essays by Monte Holcroft, the first of which was entitled The Deepening Stream.

Post-war developments

With peace came a sense of renewal and some crucial innovations that helped literature to flourish. New Zealand universities began to expand rapidly after the war, and once again, they proved havens for writers. The University of New Zealand also began publishing books in 1949. A controversial but significant move, championed by influential public servant Joe Heenan, was the establishment in 1946 of a government Literary Fund to provide writers with financial assistance.

New outlets for writing

Pre-war publishing enterprises, notably the Caxton Press, were revived, and new ones began, for instance the Paul's Book Arcade imprint of Blackwood Paul. Once Monte Holcroft took over the editorship of the Listener in 1949 even more creative writing was featured, and Maori writers were encouraged by the establishment of Te Ao Hou in the early fifties. But possibly the most momentous event was the founding by poet and editor Charles Brasch of Landfall. This quarterly journal, which first appeared in 1947, came to dominate literary life, though a number of other small magazines were soon set up in competition with it.


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