E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the official party for this evening: Richard Cathie, Chair of the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship Committee; Chelsea Winstanley and Kent Gardner, Co-Chairs of The Arts Foundation Board of Trustees; Jessica Palalagi, General Manager of The Arts Foundation; Sue Wootton, 2019 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow; William Reubenstein, Menton representative and member of the Fellowship Committee.
And of course, the Katherine Mansfield Fellows and your partners who have joined us tonight. My very warmest welcome and thanks to you all for being here to celebrate the legacy of one of our greatest writers, and to congratulate this year’s Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow.
Richard and I are both avid readers, and can relate to Mansfield’s observation that every true admirer of any kind of literature ‘cherishes the happy thought that they alone – reading between the lines – has become the secret friend of their author.’
That, surely, is one of the great pleasures in reading Mansfield – catching a fleeting glimpse of this brilliant soul, who lived and wrote with such intensity and depth.
Katherine Mansfield’s life was cut cruelly short – but in those 34 years, she produced a remarkable body of work: work which continues to radiate with such warmth and wit and wisdom, and which continues to speak so clearly and compassionately to the nature of the human condition.
You all know much better than me what makes great writing. But in my own experience as a reader or audience member, I have always enjoyed those books or plays or poems that do not try to teach or tell me something – but rather, that invite reflection: on family and memory, on faith and wisdom, on loneliness and love.
I admire those works most of all, that – regardless of their location in time or place – hold up a mirror to our own lives and experiences, and guide us towards a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other.
We remember Katherine Mansfield as both an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary woman. She was driven by a bold determination to experience life in all its fullness and mystery, and to translate those experiences onto the page: the tiny joys and sadnesses and wonders so easily drowned out in the humdrum of our daily worries and routines.
Perhaps one of my favourite examples comes in The Garden Party, as Laura is running down the driveway with her basket of leftover sandwiches and cream puffs – the gift for her grieving neighbours: ‘The road gleamed white … and it seemed to her that kisses, voices, tinkling spoons, laughter, the smell of crushed grass, were somehow inside her. She had no room for anything else.’
Like other artists of her generation – and particularly women – Mansfield regarded England as a place of pilgrimage and refuge, where she was free to take risks, to come to know herself and her passions, and to develop her remarkable literary talents.
And, like so many New Zealanders who have made that same long journey, she found the opportunities intoxicating and liberating, while also feeling that familiar ache of separation from beloved people and landscapes – the clear, bright Antipodean light; the bush and beaches; the colours and sounds and feelings of home.
The Katherine Mansfield Fellowship has proven an enduring and perfectly appropriate way to both honour her memory, and to assist successive generations of New Zealand writers. It is truly a great honour to welcome so many of you to Government House this evening, representing the brilliance and diversity of New Zealand’s literary landscape.
I can imagine that having the time and space in Menton to commit to your craft must be a precious gift. And for those who may have taken family with you to France, I hope it may have also been a place of exploration and joy and adventure – where you created memories of a distinct and special chapter in your family’s life together.
When I try to imagine sitting down to write in that room beneath the Villa Isola Bella, I can see it being both inspiring and daunting – imbued as it must be with the wairua of previous writers who have laboured there, including of course Mansfield herself.
But it is a testament to your own labour and dedication and artistry, as well as the immense value of this fellowship, that so many of the works produced by New Zealanders in that room have become classics of this country’s literature.
Tonight, Richard and I very much welcome this opportunity to advance beyond the status of ‘secret friends’ of authors, and to thank you – personally, sincerely, and on behalf of all New Zealanders – for your insights, your reflections on our time and place in the world, and, most of all, for the solace, meaning, and joy we find in your words.
No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa.