The current Reed Gallery exhibition honours the recent granting of UNESCO City of Literature status to Dunedin.
This exhibition features novels written before 1965 by well-known Dunedin-associated authors including: Janet Frame’s Owls do cry and Faces in the water; John A. Lee’s Children of the poor and Civilian into soldier; and Sir Julius Vogel’s futuristic romance Anno domini 2000: or, Woman’s destiny. Prominent place is also given to the famed verse of Dunedin icons, such as: Thomas Bracken’s Not understood and New Zealand hymn; James K. Baxter’s High Country Weather and Tunnel Beach; and Charles Brasch’s Blueskin Bay, On Mt Iron and Karitane.
The very diverse history of literary endeavour associated with Dunedin and the comprehensive holdings in the Robert McNab Collection create a vast scope which had to be delineated. It was decided to limit the parameters of the exhibition to the first one hundred years following Dunedin’s incorporation as a city in 1865. Selection criteria was also limited to prose (novels and shorter fiction) and verse.
It is not possible to establish rigid criteria for inclusion in an exhibition of this nature. However, a strong Dunedin association is the defining characteristic. Very few authors were born in Dunedin and remained here for the duration of their entire writing careers. Some were born and began their writing in Dunedin but established greater fame elsewhere. Other writers emigrated here from abroad (or from other New Zealand locations) and established themselves here. The bottom line for their inclusion is that they are considered an integral part of Dunedin’s literary heritage.
The exhibition also provides a fascinating opportunity to bring to light the works of many an obscure Dunedin author. These include the largely forgotten novels of Charles Richards Allen, the romances of Essie Summers, the amusing doggerel of Hamilton Thompson, as well as the many poets who wrote reflective verses on some aspect of the City of Dunedin itself.