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Sunday, August 28, 2022

'In Cathedrals of Imagination'


“Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination.” – Janet Frame

Born in New Zealand on this date in 1924, Nene Janet Paterson Clutha, better known by her pen name Janet Frame, wrote novels, short stories, poetry, juvenile fiction, and an autobiography, but her biggest celebrity came from her dramatic personal history.  Hospitalized for years in a psychiatric facility and mistakenly diagnosed as schizophrenic, she began writing whenever she could.   Just days before she was scheduled for a lobotomy, her debut publication of short stories was unexpectedly awarded her nation’s top literary prize.

“That,” she said in perhaps the biggest understatement ever, “changed everything.”

With her book's success and prize money, she moved to Europe, ultimately had the schizophrenia diagnosis debunked and lived to age 79 becoming one of the most prolific and rewarded authors in history.  All told, she wrote  two dozen novels, many nonfiction works, hundreds of short stories and poems, countless essays and a 3-volume autobiography that became the film An Angel At My Table.

“As a teen, people thought I might be a teacher,” she said.  “I wanted to be a poet.”

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