top of page
  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Penguin New Zealand Anthology

Spanning 50 years of New Zealand short fiction, The Penguin New Zealand Anthology offers a vivid cross-section of stories from esteemed authors and rising literary stars. As former Penguin fiction publisher Harriet Allan notes in the foreword, this collection forgoes critical analysis to let the writing speak for itself. The range of voices, eras and styles testifies to the diversity and creativity of the Kiwi short story tradition.

Short stories really are the gems of the literary world. A lens through which to view everyday life, slices of lives interestingly led. In addition, they give insight into some of the world’s great writers without the requirement for the patience for some of their longer, more intense works.

Organised chronologically from 1973 onward, the anthology begins with earthy realism and a focus on taciturn, hard-drinking male antiheroes, as seen in stories by Ronald Hugh Morrieson and Maurice Gee. But early on, the collection also includes lyrical gems like Patricia Grace’s homesick “And So I Go” and Albert Wendt’s enigmatic, mystical “The Cross of Soot.” Such inclusion of lesser-anthologized works provides welcome surprise.

As the years progress, more female authors appear, tackling themes of marriage, parenting and feminism. Highlights include Fiona Farrell’s parallel tales of infidelity in “Footnote,” Shonagh Koea’s chilling “The Widow,” and Alice Tawhai’s marital discord stories. Environmentalism emerges with new life in Witi Ihimaera’s fresh and urgent “The Seahorse and the Reef” despite being written in 1977, while C.K. Stead, Paula Morris and others locate characters abroad.

The setting shifts from rural communities to urban centres; the characters grow and linger. Standouts from the 21st century include Tze Ming Mok’s cringingly realistic teen date-gone-wrong “No Shadow Kick” and Carl Nixon’s poignant study of fading paternal bonds in “Saturday.” Sue Orr, Charlotte Grimshaw and others provide page-turning drama. While many retain the feelings of New Zealand in its prime, the geographic and stylistic variety impresses.

Appropriately bookended by Grace’s 1973 goodbye and Evana Belich’s 2023 ode to elderly empathy, this collection suggests a literary tradition growing more inclusive and humane. Allan has curated a cross-section to savour, mixing old favourites with discoveries. And what discoveries they are! For any lover of Kiwi literature, stories strange, funny, brutal and sublime await within these covers. Spanning half a century of our nation’s writing, The Penguin New Zealand Anthology will gratify devoted readers and inspire future generations.

Chris Reed

Auckland University Press


bottom of page