South-West of Eden: A Memoir, 1932–1956

C. K. Stead


‘[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


‘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.


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C. K. Stead was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1932. From the late 1950s, he began to earn an international reputation as a poet and literary critic – his book The New Poetic (1964) has sold over 100,000 copies – and, later, as a novelist. He has published over 40 books and received numerous honours recognising his contribution to literature, including a CBE (1974), an Honorary DLitt from the University of Bristol (2001), the CNZ Michael King Fellowship (2005), the Order of New Zealand (2007) and, in 2009, the $60,000 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction and the Montana New Zealand Book Award (Reference and Anthology) for his Collected Poems. In 2010 he won the world’s richest short story award, the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award worth £25,000, and his poem ‘Ischaemia’ won the Hippocrates Prize (open section), worth £5000.


May 2010, 210 x 140 mm, 360 pages, illustrations
Hardback, ISBN 9781869404543, $45