Stead, C.K. 1932- (Christian Karlson Stead)

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Stead, C.K. 1932- (Christian Karlson Stead)


Surname rhymes with "head"; born October 17, 1932, in Auckland, New Zealand; son of James Walter (an accountant) and Olive Ethel (a music teacher) Stead; married Kathleen Elizabeth Roberts, January 8, 1955; children: Oliver William, Charlotte Mary, Margaret Hermione. Education: Auckland University College (now University of Auckland), B.A., 1954, M.A., 1955; University of Bristol, Ph.D., 1961.


Home and office—Auckland, New Zealand.


Writer, novelist, literary critic, poet, essayist, and educator. University of New England, Australia, lecturer in English, 1956-57; University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, lecturer, 1960-61, senior lecturer, 1962-64, associate professor, 1964-67, professor of English, 1967-86, professor emeritus, 1986—. St. John's College, Oxford, senior visiting fellow, 1996-97. Full-time writer, 1986—. Chair of New Zealand Literary Fund Advisory Committee, 1972-75; chair of New Zealand Authors' Fund Committee, 1989-91.


New Zealand PEN (Auckland Branch chair, 1986-89; national vice-president, 1988-90).


Michael Hiatt Baker Scholar, University of Bristol, England, 1957-59; Katherine Mansfield Prize, 1961, for a short story; Nuffield traveling fellowship, 1965; Jessie Mackay Award for Poetry, 1972; Katherine Mansfield fellow, Menton, France, 1972; New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, 1975; honorary research fellow, University College, London, 1977; New Zealand Literary Fund Award for fiction, 1982, 1995; D. Litt., University of Auckland, 1982; Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) for services to New Zealand literature, 1984; New Zealand Book Awards for fiction, 1985, for All Visitors Ashore, and 1994, for The Singing Whakapapa; QEII Arts Council Scholarship in Letters, 1988-89; Queen's Medal for services to New Zealand Literature, 1990; elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL), 1995; Montana New Zealand Book Award finalist, 2000, for Talking about O'Dwyer; King's Lynn Poetry Prize, 2001; Montana New Zealand Book Award shortlist for fiction, 2005, for Mansfield; Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers' Fellowship, 2005; Montana New Zealand Book Award for poetry finalist, 2005, for The Red Tram; Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize finalist, 2005, for Mansfield. Recipient of honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Bristol, 2001. Elected fellow of the English Association, 2003; Order of New Zealand, 2007.



Whether the Will Is Free, Blackwood (London, England), 1964.

Crossing the Bar, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1972.

Quesada: Poems 1972-74, The Shed (Auckland, New Zealand), 1975.

Walking Westward, The Shed (Auckland, New Zealand), 1979.

Geographies, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1982.

Poems of a Decade, Pilgrims South Press (New Zealand), 1983.

Paris, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1984.

Between, Auckland University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 1988.

Voices, GP Books (New Zealand), 1990.

The Right Thing, Auckland University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 2000.

Dog, Auckland University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 2002.

King's Lynn and the Pacific, King's Lynn Poetry Festival (King's Lynn, New Zealand), 2003.

The Red Tram, Auckland University Press (Auckland, New Zealand) 2004.

The Black River, Auckland University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 2007.


Smith's Dream, Longman (London, England), 1971.

Five for the Symbol (stories), Longman (London, England), 1981.

All Visitors Ashore, Collins (London, England), 1984.

The Death of the Body, Collins (London, England), 1986, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Sister Hollywood, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.

The End of the Century at the End of the World, Harvill (London, England), 1992.

The Singing Whakapapa, Penguin (New York, NY), 1994.

Villa Vittoria, Penguin (New York, NY), 1997.

The Blind Blonde with Candles in Her Hair (stories), Penguin (New York, NY), 1999.

Talking about O'Dwyer, Penguin (New York, NY), 2000.

The Secret History of Modernism, Harvill (London, England), 2001.

Makutu, Meandar (Zagreb, Croatia), 2001.

Mansfield, Vintage (London, England), 2004.

My Name Was Judas, Harvill Secker (London, England), 2006.


The New Poetic: Yeats to Eliot, Hutchinson (London, England), 1964, revised edition, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1987.

In the Glass Case: Essays on New Zealand Literature, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1981.

Pound, Yeats, Eliot, and the Modernist Movement, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1986.

Answering to the Language: Essays on Modern Writers, Auckland University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 1989.

The Writer at Work, Otago University Press (New Zealand), 2000.

Kin of Place: Essays on 20 New Zealand Writers, Auckland University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 2002.


(And contributor) World's Classics: New Zealand Short Stories, 2nd series (Stead was not associated with earlier series), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1966, 3rd edition, 1975.

Measure for Measure: A Casebook, Macmillan, 1971, revised edition, 1973.

Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield, Allen Lane (London, England), 1977.

Collected Stories of Maurice Duggan, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1981.

(With Elizabeth Smither and Kendrick Smithyman) The New Gramophone Room: Poetry and Fiction, University of Auckland (Auckland, New Zealand), 1985.

Faber Book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories, Faber (London, England), 1993.

Katherine Mansfield's Letters and Journals: A Selection, Vintage (Auckland, New Zealand), 2004.


Contributor of poetry and fiction to numerous anthologies, including The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, edited by Allen Curnow, Penguin (London, England), 1960; New Zealand Poetry, edited by Vincent O'Sullivan, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England); and From a Room of Their Own, edited by Michael Gifkins, [Auckland, New Zealand], 1993. Contributor of criticism to numerous anthologies, including Literary History and Literary Criticism, edited by Leon Edel, [New York, NY], 1965; Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Sharon K. Hall, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986; and The Writing of New Zealand, edited by Alex Calder, [Auckland, New Zealand], 1993.

Author's works have been translated into other languages, including French, German, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Romanian, Slovenian, Japanese and Croatian.

Member of international advisory board for Cumberland Poetry Review, Malahat Review, Journal of Literary Criticism, and the Yeats Annual.

Manuscript collection held in the Alexander Turnbull Library of the National Library of New Zealand, Wellington.


The novel Smith's Dream was adapted for a film directed by Roger Donaldson and released as Sleeping Dogs in 1977; the short story "A Fitting Tribute" was adapted for television by Hibiscus Films in 1987.


C.K. Stead is a prominent New Zealand poet, critic, and novelist whose fiction in particular has found an international audience. Born and raised in New Zealand, and a professor of English at the University of Auckland for twenty-six years, Stead has won awards for his poetry and his fiction, including the prestigious C.B.E. in 1984. Both his verse and his fiction are highly confessional, but they also reveal a writer fascinated with metafictions and the beauty of the English language. To quote Stephen Oxenham in World Literature Today, Stead "has contributed hugely to contemporary New Zealand literature, its study, its teaching, its controversies, along with its creation."

As a poet, Stead "aims to provide entertainment and enjoyment," commented Bernard Gadd in World Literature Today. In The Right Thing, Stead offers a collection of poems that stand as forms of "conservative modernism," Gadd noted. The poems display traditional structural forms and use of technique, including regular stanza shape, alliteration, and assonance. Stead also engages in frequent humor, adding verbal puns and playful language to his works. A number of the poems in the book address Biblical figures such as Job and classical writers such as Horace and Catullus. "The collection also can be read as the former professor of English joining Generation X in retreat from the subversions, the ambiguities, the freedoms, the democracies of the postmodern," Gadd observed. Stead, Gadd concluded, is "an able crafter of verse."

Stead's poetry collection The Red Tram is divided into four sections that concentrate on the author's personal memories, criticism of public issues, literary subjects, and the works of others. Among the poems of the first section, "Stead runs us through the seasons of his garden in a series of quick sketches, sometimes lightweight, sometimes witty, occasionally with a haiku feel," commented Paul Sharrad in World Literature Today. Memories crowd in from Stead's younger days, including vendors' carts during the war, a dying infant sister, his parents, and his grandmother. These recollections "give a sense of someone taking a leisurely and slightly wry, wistful stock of his life," Sharrad observed. In the second section, Stead presents poems criticizing the Bush administration and the occupation of Iraq; observations on world politics as centered on Africa; and the aftermath of 9/11. Stead also offers poems that consider the works of other poets, including Rimbaud, Keats, Pound, and Janet Frame. "The Red Tram is a collection that both entertains and inspires admiration," Sharrad concluded.

In novels such as All Visitors Ashore and Talking about O'Dwyer, Stead weaves New Zealand history, collegiate erudition, and human frailty into stories that wrestle with cultural politics and race. Sharrad, writing again in World Literature Today found a "New Zealand mythos" in Stead's oeuvre as the author meditates upon "changes the world has brought to both Europe and his homeland."

Stead's novel All Visitors Ashore "is a rollicking good yarn as well as an ingenious work of fiction," Oxenham remarked in World Literature Today. In a story centering on the Waterfront Strike of 1951, a signal event in New Zealand politics and industrial relations, Stead weaves interrelated tales of prominent New Zealand literary figures of the time, including luminaries such as Baxter, Sargeson, Frame, and Fairburn. Stead applies a prose style that takes some getting used to, Oxenham observed, including lengthy, rambling sentences and abrupt shifts in point of view. However, Oxenham also noted that the drawn-out cadences of Stead's style eventually become manageable and familiar. Oxenham stated that in his storytelling, Stead "shows himself as a master of pungent, humorous prose."

The Death of the Body tells the story of philandering philosophy professor Harry Butler, involved in an affair with one of his graduate students, and his wife, Claire, who has recently had a religious conversion to Sufism. His home life is complicated by the presence of a police drug squad camping in his kitchen and performing surveillance on suspicious neighbors. Assailed by his department's Women's Collective for his affairs, Butler insists he cannot leave his wife because his sons need him to provide a stable home life. The story takes a serious turn when a dead body is discovered. As Butler's story unfolds, the narrator becomes a more intrusive presence in the novel, toting Butler's story about in a blue folder and writing in a Milan cafe, where the prose is interrogated by Uta Haverstrom, wife of the Danish consul. A Publishers Weekly called the book a "clever novel."

Sister Hollywood is Stead's fifth novel and the first of his works to be published in the United States. For the protagonists of the book, the Hollywood of the 1940s has separate meanings. Bill Harper, whose unhappy childhood in Auckland was made bearable by frequent visits to the movies, sees Hollywood in idealistic terms, as a magical, transforming place where dreams come alive and fantasies can come true. For Harper, Hollywood also has a deeply personal meaning, as he believes that his long-absent sister Edie may be living there. Concurrently, Irene Tamworth has recently arrived in town where she is having some success as an actress, in reverse proportion, it seems, to her husband Rocky's failures. Irene wants to believe in the dream, but she sees life in Hollywood for the difficult situation it is. As Harper uses the movies to confront his past life, Irene tries to escape hers in a similar manner. Throughout the telling, "the plot remains clear and its deeper meanings intriguing," wrote Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg.

Laszlo Winter, the protagonist of The Secret History of Modernism, is an aged writer from Auckland who is suffering from writer's block. When he is visited by a person who reminds him of an important woman from his past, his blocked imagination begins to stir back to life, and a novel begins to take shape in his head. The narrative then unfolds on Winter's younger years as a graduate student in London. Winter nurses an unrequited crush on another writer, the vivacious, intelligent Samantha Conlan. But Samantha is attracted to Friedrich Goldstein, a Jewish journalist who is also married. Samantha and Goldstein enter into an ill-advised and awkward affair while Winter seeks the favors of Heather, a literary-minded call girl who trades sex for lessons and discussion of Shakespeare. When Winter enters a relationship with Margot, another woman of his acquaintance, he is consistently bothered by the possibility that she has had an incestuous bond with her brother, Mark. A number of famous literary figures also appear in the book, including T.S. Eliot, Christina Stead, and Katherine Mansfield. The personal history of each of the characters becomes important to the resolution of the novel as individual stories of past and present become more and more convoluted and intertwined. "This complex novel fits together so neatly that it might feel glib in the hands of a less skilled writer," observed John de Falbe in Spectator. "But Stead's crisp prose serves a vigorous and subtle intelligence, so that nothing is closed off. There is always another connection, another layer. C.K. Stead is challenging, fun, urbane and brilliant," de Falbe stated. A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that the novel is "a book for literary aficionados who understand the intoxicating power of study, gossip, and debate about books."

Stead's novel Mansfield covers the story of three eventful years in the life of novelist Katherine Mansfield. In 1915, her beloved brother, Leslie Beauchamp, is killed in a military training accident. She engages in an affair with a French officer while pondering the highs and lows of her relationship with John Middleton Murry, a notable English literary figure. At the end of the novel, in 1918, Mansfield comes to realize that she has contracted tuberculosis, which will cause her death five years later. Stead concentrates on the inner lives and thoughts of his many characters, particularly Mansfield herself. He explores the relationship between Mansfield and Murry and another famous literary couple, D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda. Other literary giants appear within the novel, including Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey, and T.S. Eliot. Stead also depicts Mansfield's pursuit by noted philosopher and intellectual Bertrand Russell. "Stead's Mansfield may or may not be true to the documentary truth, but she is as large as life and twice as natural," remarked Alberto Manquel in the Spectator. "Stead's considerable accomplishment in this novel is not only to make a convincing Mansfield mind but to do so in a Mansfieldian fiction that is nevertheless an entirely modern and enjoyable novel," Gadd commented in another World Literature Today review, who concluded that the novel "sets a real benchmark for future fictions" about Mansfield.

Stead once told CA: "Fiction and poetry are arts whose material is language. A beautiful soul, immense erudition, something important to say—none of these will help if you lack that basic talent with the language. Good writing offers a grammatical dance, a verbal music. But because part of its function is to refer, or to ‘mean,’ language points beyond itself. One of the greatest and least obtrusive of the writer's skills is to recreate a world we know already. Where I feel my fiction is working best the reader should be aware simultaneously of a language which has on it the stamp of this writer and no other, and yet which is producing what someone called ‘the shock of recognition,’ almost as if language had nothing to do with it."

Stead added, "If there is inevitably a strong regional element in my work, it alone is not enough to explain what I write or what I look for in writing. Those schools and that university I attended gave me access to something more than my own region; or perhaps I should say they taught me that I had access to it in the language I grew up speaking. That larger ‘something’ is the whole European culture we inherit along with our language and history. I value it; and I don't like a shallow nationalism which inclines to say it is something second hand and geographically irrelevant.

"I began writing at the age of thirteen and under the influence of English writers—first Rupert Brooke and John Buchan, then Keats and Wordsworth, Dickens and Sir Walter Scott. Later I discovered the New Zealand poets and fiction writers who were mapping our own country in literature; and as a student I began to read the Americans. In those days New Zealand was still emerging from its colonial phase and it seemed necessary to insist on our independence—political, cultural, and literary. Now I think we believe in our independence, and it may be more important that we remember kinship and history."



Robinson, Roger, and Nelson Wattie, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.


Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, March 31, 2003, "Stead Cautions against Reading Fiction as Autobiographical," interview with C.K. Stead; July 9, 2005, "C.K. Stead Awarded $100,000 Michael King Fellowship."

Guardian (Manchester, England), February 22, 2003, Alfred Hickling and David Jays, "Destroyed by Happiness," review of The Secret History of Modernism.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2005, review of Mansfield, p. 505.

New Internationalist, October, 2001, review of The Faber Book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories, p. 19.

Observer (London, England), January 20, 2002, Zoe Green, "Better Than a Slap in the Face with a Plastic Fish," review of The Secret History of Modernism.

Publishers Weekly, June 8, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Sister Hollywood, p. 45; August 30, 1993, review of The Death of the Body, p. 89; May 20, 2002, review of The Secret History of Modernism, p. 47.

Spectator, January 26, 2002, John de Falbe, review of The Secret History of Modernism, p. 49; June 5, 2004, Alberto Manquel, "Leaving Fingerprints Behind," review of Mansfield, p. 44.

World Literature Today, fall, 1996, Stephen Oxenham, review of All Visitors Ashore, p. 1034; autumn, 2000, Bernard Gadd, review of The Right Thing, p. 811; summer-autumn, 2001, Carolyn Bliss, review of The Writer at Work, p. 140; winter, 2001, Paul Sharrad, review of Talking about O'Dwyer, p. 110; January-April, 2005, Bernard Gadd, review of Mansfield, p. 88; January-February, 2006, Paul Sharrad, review of The Red Tram, p. 57.


Bookbag, (January 10, 2007), Magda Healey, review of My Name Was Judas.

Danny Yee's Book Reviews, (March 26, 2003), review of The Death of the Body; (July 23, 2003), review of Talking about O'Dwyer; (September 21, 2004), review of The Secret History of Modernism.

Jacket Magazine, (January 31, 2007), John Newton, "The Death-Throes of Nationalism," review of Kin of Place: Essays on 20 New Zealand Writers.

New Zealand Book Council Web site, (January 10, 2007), biography of C.K. Stead.