10.6.08

Genre Confusion

Learned yesterday that my 2007 book of essays, Waimarino County (& other excursions), has been shortlisted for the 2008 Montana NZ Book Awards - in the Biography category. While delighted at the recognition and proud of the book itself, I'm also confused - in what sense is it a biography? Who is it a biography of? There are a few pieces in there that could be described as (auto)biographical essays, but most of the book doesn't focus upon particular lives, not even my own. Where other lives do enter into it - Alan Brunton's, Ern Malley's, Ronald Hugh Morrieson's - the inquiry is focussed not so much on their biographies as their works. The other two shortlisted books are Ray Fargher's book on Donald McLean and Judy Siers' on architect James Walter Chapman-Taylor - both, by the look of them, bona fide biographies in the classic sense. I've very happy to be in this company however, especially since Ray Fargher was a mate of my father's and came to our house sometimes when I was still living at home in the 1960s. I hope he wins it ... if I don't, which I probably won't. Or I hope Judy Siers does. Trying to imagine Waimarino County as a biography is a bit like seeing Saturn from the other side, as in this image, which views the planet and its rings from a POV unavailable to us here on earth but clear enough to our probe, Cassini. It looks the same, only different, like a photographic negative perhaps:


8 comments:

jacky bowring said...

Best of luck! And whether a 'biography' or not, it's fascinating stuff ... which there is probably no suitable container for, in any orthodox system of classification (I hear Borges intoning in the background,humming and constructing a categorical vessel for said book ... ).

ghastlily said...

Congratulations on your well-deserved shortlisting, Martin. You don't say what category you think Waimarino Country should have been shortlisted in - is there one? Or is it time to reconsider the names and/or parameters of the biography, history and (somewhat unsexily named) reference and anthology categories?

Mary McCallum said...

I'm sure Chris Price ended up in the same category last year with her amazing collection of poem/essays/part-biography things....

Do we need another category perhaps for essay? Congrats by the way.

Looking forward to hearing you speak in Wellington in August as part of Massey's Writers Read event, Martin. Massey invited me to speak for the first event and it was wonderfully run and well-attended and Ingrid Horrocks was a wonderful chair. A fantastic night. I'm sure yours will be the same.

Martin Edmond said...

Probably what's needed is a third category alongside fiction and poetry for writing that is in neither genre but equally, doesn't primarily attempt to deal in plain fact. Trouble is, the current terms - literary or creative non-fiction - seem unnecessarily loaded or else somehow unwieldy. It's a conundrum. Perhaps we should revive belles-lettres ... then we could have belletrists. For those of us who can't do funambulism.

Kathy Hunter said...

How about 'faction'? Congratulations Martin - fingers crossed that this time you get a well-deserved win. Now I'm on your side of the Tasman (but not the Bridge) I keep looking for your name to pop up but there it is in lights back home! Or am I just looking in all the wrong places?

Very well done to you too, Mary - I knew 'The Blue' would blow everything out of the water. Past best first book and straight to the big one! Nice. Have been whale watching on Manly's North Head and was reminded of the book, and you, just last week.

An exceptional line up for the Montanas this year but we all wonder why only four on the traditional fiction shortlist of five? Bookman Beattie is on the case. We await with bated breath...

Martin Edmond said...

Hey Kathy - I'm in the darkness between those ironic points of light - you cd email at the link on the blog if you want to catch up -

Elisabeth said...

Hi Martin
What wonderful news. After you mentioned your blog address, I've come back to blogging. Thanks. I should like to buy a copy of your shortlisted book. Can I get it readily in Melbourne do you think or do I need to go through devious routes?
Then, after I have read it, I shall be in a better position to comment on that boring old argument about genre.
As I understand it now, genre classifications are merely related to where on the bookshelves in libraries and stores your book should appear. A book, it seems is only allowed to occupy one home, no split living.
Congratulations
Lis

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