Discipline: Literature

Janet Frame

Discipline: Literature
MacDowell fellowships: 1969

Janet Frame (1924-2004) whose vividly romantic explorations of madness and language in novels, poetry and autobiography propelled her to worldwide attention. Frame's 12 novels, four story collections, one poetry collection and three volumes of autobiography have won dozens of awards.

Frame was born in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her father was a railroad engineer. Her mother, who once worked as a maid in the home of the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, wrote poems that she sold door to door. Her youth was blighted by the drownings of two sisters. She attended the local teachers' training college, where she felt so lonely that she found peace sitting among tombstones in a cemetery. While practice teaching, she panicked when an inspector entered the classroom, and she fled, never to return. She suffered a breakdown that was misdiagnosed as schizophrenia.

After her eight years in two psychiatric hospitals, she was befriended on her release by Frank Sargeson, a writer, who let her stay in an army hut in his backyard in Auckland, New Zealand. She wrote her first novel, ''Owls Do Cry'' (Pegasus, 1957), while staying there. The narrator was Daphne, a patient in a mental hospital.

She next traveled abroad on a grant from the New Zealand government, and in London a panel of psychiatrists determined she was not mentally ill, just different from other people. While living in Europe she published five novels from 1961 to 1963.

She returned to New Zealand in 1964 and wrote more novels, and three volumes of autobiography (Braziller, 1982, 1984, 1985). Despite the deep introspection of her writing, she developed a reputation as a private person.