‘Life at Oamaru with all its variety of new experiences was a wonderful adventure. I was now vividly aware of myself as a person on earth, feeling a kinship with other creatures and full of joy at the sights and sounds about me and drunk with the anticipation of play…’
Janet Frame lived at 56 Eden Street from the age of six until she left Oamaru after completing secondary school.
Her childhood became one of the best known of any New Zealander after she wrote of its joys and sorrows in her bestselling autobiography, which was immortalised in the celebrated film An Angel at my Table.
Despite financial struggle and occasional tragedy, the family enjoyed a rich appreciation of literature and the natural world. All five Frame children had their poems and letters published in the children’s pages of newspapers.
At an early age Janet resolved to become a poet but in Dunedin she trained as a teacher. Her unhappiness with a vocation that didn’t suit her led to a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia and she spent several years in and out of hospitals, while continuing to write and publish stories and poems. It wasn’t until her first book of stories, The Lagoon, was published in 1951 and won a literary prize that her doctors recognised that she didn’t belong in hospital. She had famously, narrowly escaped a brain operation.
From this time her career took off. She mixed with prominent New Zealand literary figures of the time, write her first novel Owls Do Cry, and left for an extended stay in England, where she published prolifically and established a solid international reputation for her fiction.
She returned to New Zealand in 1963 as an acclaimed author, living in various parts of the country and travelling frequently overseas. She won many local and international prizes, fellowships, and honours for her work, including two honorary doctorates, the Commonwealth Prize for Literature, a CBE, and Order of New Zealand.
By the time of her death in Dunedin in 2004 she had published over 20 titles of fiction, poetry, and memoir, and was regarded as a New Zealand icon. Since her death, her Estate, the Janet Frame Literary Trust, has published previously unpublished short stories as well as a novel and a collection of poetry. Her other books, several of which became bestsellers in their field, have been repeatedly reissued over the years and continue to be reprinted and translated.
At her request, Janet Frame’s final resting place is in the Oamaru Cemetery Frame family grave with her sisters and her parents.
‘New Zealand does not honour many of its writers in this fashion: preserving a house that had special significance while that writer was alive. To visit such a place inevitably takes on something of the nature of a pilgrimage. The writer’s power is acknowledged and their memory kept alive…’ ~ Fiona Farrell, writer.