12 November, 2016

Jay to Bee by Janet Frame

When reading fiction, are you, like me, curious about authors' personalities and their real life adventures? Surely, one does not have to live an exciting and eventful life to be able to write stories. This is and is not the case of Janet Frame, remembered as a painfully shy and introspective creature, whose dramatic personal history became well known in New Zealand and worldwide through a classic film by Jane Campion An Angel at my Table, based on Frame's three autobiographies.

Jay to Bee is a newly published collection of Janet Frame’s letters to the American painter William Brown whom she met at an artists’ colony in the United States in 1951. Since their meeting, the two artists from the different hemispheres began exchanging letters which for the first time now are available in print.

Every exciting letter has enclosures,
And so shall this – a bunch of photographs,
Some out of focus, some with wrong exposures,
Press cutting, gossip, maps, statistics, graphs;
I don’t intend to do the things by halves.
I’m going to be very up-to-date indeed.
It’s a collage that you’re going to read.


Over two decades, Frame wrote more than 500 letters to Brown, about 140 of which comprised the collection. They include her observations of people and events, arts and politics, household chores, quotes (like the one from W.H. Auden’s letter to Lord Byron I re-quoted above), all mixed up with drawings, photographs, doodles and collages. Witty and humorous, they reveal Frame’s warm and sensitive personality as well as her individual style of drawing and design, unknown earlier to the public.

Title: Jay to Bee: Janet Frame's Letters to William Theophilus Brown
Editor: Denis Harold

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

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