Paper dolls and exercise books

“I like the way a writer’s papers and rough drafts can return us to the idea of writing as making. You can learn a lot from seeing the author stumbling, mucking about, failing, doodling, reviving.”

Professor Damien Wilkins captures the purpose of the New Zealand Literary Archive perfectly. But then, you wouldn’t expect anything less.

It is 25 years since the Archive was first established in the J.C. Beaglehole Room of Victoria’s Library. Its founding contributors were Jenny Bornholdt, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera and Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.

Set up to enable the Library to collect and preserve the literary papers of eminent New Zealand writers with a strong connection to Victoria, the original contributors are now joined by Elizabeth Knox, Emeritus Professor Vincent O’Sullivan, Professor Harry Ricketts and Damien Wilkins.

A virtual treasure trove of published and unpublished works, it was almost with a sense of relief that Elizabeth Knox contributed her early notebooks to the Archive.

“It is a collection of all the things of which no good facsimile can be made, like a many times folded sheet of cardboard that is the floor plan of a room where the paper dolls would meet and talk, the paper dolls representing some future novelist’s first characters ever.

“I write by hand. Everything that isn’t published exists in only one copy. It’s lovely to think I won’t have to be responsible for all of it, like the paper dolls, and the exercise books full of stories about the people they became.”

Selected by Victoria’s Heritage and Special Collections Advisory Group, the four new contributors were welcomed to the Archive at a celebratory event in June, where they each read from their work. “As the Archive grows it will become an increasingly valuable set of personal workshops. It will also trace New Zealand literature through a distinct period,” says Damien.