Brief Lives

Chris Price

‘First and foremost, it’s a delightful read. It’s conversational. It’s playful. As an invitation to construct lives around shards of paleo-biographical evidence, to think interesting thoughts, it’s hard to resist. This is Price’s greatest single virtue: when the after-echoes of her voice stop sounding in your head, you want to go back to the book and read some more.’ – David Larsen, NZ Listener


Brief Lives is an eccentric collection of biographical anecdotes and fictional vignettes in which famous figures such as Goethe, Petrarch and Antonin Artaud rub shoulders with impecunious aristocrats, actors and art historians as well as a range of fictional characters caught amid the daily chaos of their lives.

Here a dead man recounts his experiences as a Jesus impersonator. A wife reflects on the unhappiness of holidays. A doctor conducts altitude experiments on prisoners. Lott loses his mother’s ashes in Amsterdam, and Nietzsche dances naked round a stove in Turin.

These small, curious pieces deliver the reader on an A–Z journey towards the brilliant long essay ‘Variable Stars’, which takes in the French poets Mallarme and Villiers, as well as Jonathan Franzen, Janet Frame and Nigel Cox.

A meditation on mortality and the tasks of recording, collection and recollection we undertake to stave it off, Brief Lives is a genre-crossing work that makes a plea for what historian Simon Schama has called ‘the eloquence of peculiarity’.



Multi-talented Chris Price is based in Wellington, where she teaches the poetry workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters (VUW), home of Bill Manhire’s highly regarded creative writing programmes. Her first collection of poems Husk (AUP) won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry and made the NZ Top 10 bestseller list. From 1992 to 2004, she co-ordinated our major international literary event, NZ Post Writers and Readers Week and she edited New Zealand’s longest-running literary magazine, Landfall, from 1993 to 2000. She was the 2008 CNZ/Auckland University Writer in residence at the Michael King Writers Centre and is the author of The Blind Singer (AUP, 2009).


Winner of Spectrum Print Book Design Awards: Best Non-Illustrated Book 2007; shortlisted for Montana New Zealand Book Awards: Biography Category 2007.


August 2006, 190 x 140 mm, 128 pages, illustrations
Paperback, ISBN 9781869403638, $29.99