South-West of Eden: A Memoir, 1932–1956
C. K. Stead
‘I said many times I would not write autobiography – partly because it might signal, either to my inner self, or to others, a signing off as a writer; and partly because I did not want to mark off areas that were fact in my life from those that might yet be invented. Fiction likes to move, disguised and without a passport, back and forth across that border, and prefers it should be unmarked and without check-points.’ – C. K. Stead
Happily for the many readers of his novels, poems, criticism and essays, C. K. Stead has changed his mind. In South-West of Eden, a coming-of-age memoir by New Zealand’s leading poet, novelist and critic, Stead writes of a life ‘lived by history’ – running wild in Cornwall Park, joining the Labour Party aged seven, discovering poetry in a third-form English class and enjoying a newly married annus mirabilis in a flat on Takapuna Beach down the road from Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame.
An Aucklander to the core – ‘Most things of real significance in my life and the life of my family had happened somewhere in sight from the summit of Mt Eden’ – Stead here turns his home town into a land of myth and symbol: ‘Tamaki of many lovers, portage for ancient waka, wasp-waist of the fish of Maui, site of a Pākehā-planned and never built coast-to-coast canal and of the harbour-to-harbour ghost-tram, no longer running except in the head of an elderly writer, late in the night, remembering at his laptop.’
In a virtuoso performance, C. K. Stead wonderfully illuminates 23 years of his time and his place.
South West of Eden is the first volume of C. K. Stead's memoirs and is followed up by You Have a Lot to Lose, A Memoir, 1956–1986 (AUP, 2019)
More about C. K. Stead
Read an extract here
[H]is observations are always astute and thoughtful, informed by a lifetime in literature, all of which invests this memoir with resonance and immediacy. – Steven Carroll, The Melbourne Age
South-West of Eden is a compelling read. Every page is interesting, not solely Stead-focused, and rarely explicitly about literature. It's an eloquent and insightful recording of a childhood, the coming of age of an ordinary boy in 1940-50s New Zealand. - Jessica Le Bas, Stuff NZ
...now comes the memoir Karl Stead said he would never write. It is a stunning read and it went to the top of my non-fiction book of the year list before I'd finished it. - Jessica Le Bas, Stuff NZ