C.K. Stead

Portrait C.K. Stead
© Ali Ghandtschi

Christian Karlson Stead was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1932. His first names go back to his Swedish grandfather. Stead grew up with music, and his childhood on a farm meant he developed close ties with nature. He studied at Auckland University and wrote his doctor’s thesis in Bristol in 1961. He started writing poems and short stories early on, but had to accommodate both his literary and his academic career.
The literary critic has published numerous texts that have won him major acclaim, including his treatise about the literary modernity »The New Poetic« (1964); he was the editor of the second volume of »New Zealand Short Stories« (1964), published the letters and diaries of Katherine Mansfield (1977) and has composed critical essays. His literary work has always been inspired by his scientific studies, for instance in his novel »Mansfield« (2004), and his literary work has always informed his texts, which are characterized by easy readability. Stead once said that there is no major difference between his scholarly essays and his reviews for journals, neither with regard to the tone, nor the vocabulary or their requirements. »I am not interested in obscure dialogues. I want to be understood.« Stead’s novel about the time of the Vietnam war, »Smith’s Dream«, was published in 1971. It made him internationally famous, and was turned into a movie − »Sleeping Dogs« − in 1977. In »Quesada« (1975), »Walking Westward« (1979), »Geographies« (1982), and many other anthologies of poetry, Stead experiments with open forms, free verses and extensive quotes. Well-known is the reference to a quote from »Macbeth«, which marks the sonic parody beginning of one of his sonnets: »To Maurice, and to Maurice, and to Maurice«. Stead often opts for a rather personal narrative style, e.g. his adaptation of Catull in the »Clodian Songbook«, or the »Voices« collection (1990) published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of New Zealand with scenes from the history of the country and his own family. His novel »The Singing Whakapapa« (1994) sheds light on the historical conflict between settlers and the native Maori in an attempt to deal with a difficult chapter in New Zealand’s history. Stead’s novel »My Name was Judas« (2006) is dedicated to the life of Judas Iscariot, who tells about his life and the encounter with Jesus from the perspective of an old man, and sheds a new light at the history of treason.
Stead received the Montana Award for the anthology »Collected Poems, 1951−2006« (2008), and the New Zealand Book Award twice. His most important distinction was the Order of New Zealand, which was bestowed upon him on »Waitangi Day« 2007. C. K. Stead lives in Auckland.

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