In Janet Frame's posthumously published novel In the Memorial Room, New Zealand writer Harry Gill is awarded the annual Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship, which affords him the opportunity to work and live for six months in Menton, France. This novel is based on Frame's own experiences in Menton as a Katherine Mansfield Fellow in 1974. One of New Zealand's most prestigious literary awards, the Mansfield Fellowshipcurrently the New Zealand Post Mansfield Prizehas supported many notable writers for more than 40 years.
Katherine Mansfield was born as Kathleen Beauchamp in Wellington, New Zealand in 1888. She died of tuberculosis in France in 1923. Known primarily for her short fiction, her collections include In a German Pension and The Garden Party. During the First World War she contracted tuberculosis. In 1919 and 1920 she spent long periods in Menton on the Côte d'Azur, believing the climate would be beneficial to her health. During her stays, Mansfield lived and wrote at the Villa Isola Bella. Currently, the villa comprises privately owned apartments. A room in the basement is furnished as a study and is reserved for Mansfield fellows.
Since 1970 one fellow from New Zealand has been chosen every year. Young adult fiction writer Mandy Hager was announced as the 2014 fellow. She received NZ $75,000 in prize money. The financial award and French setting are intended to support and inspire established and mid-career writers while they develop future work, far from the constraints of usual job and life commitments. Past recipients include Dame Fiona Kidman, Justin Paton, and Greg McGee.
In 1999 more than 20 Mansfield fellows read aloud the letters they wrote to the iconic author in a standing-room-only celebration in Wellington. These letters were published in the 2000 book As Fair as New Zealand to Me.
Though the current room for fellows is described as being equipped with its own separate entrance and facilities, Frame had less than ideal conditions during her stay in Menton. The room where she worked had no running water or toilet facilities. There were also delays in receiving her fellowship payments. Yet, in spite of (or due to) these difficulties, Frame managed to artfully exploit these frustrations in In The Memorial Room.
To learn more about Janet Frame, read the 'Beyond the Book' for The Memory of Love.
This article was originally published in February 2014, and has been updated for the
December 2014 paperback release.
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