As in the case of other colonial territories, the beginnings of NZ literature can be traced back to stories of travel and exploration.
Among the first documents emerges A first year in Canterbury settlement (1863) by the Victorian S. Butler (1835-1902), who nevertheless showed himself skeptical about the cultural future of the colony, still engaged in mere physical survival. A more fascinating description of the New Zealand experience is Lady MA Butler’s Station life in New Zealand (1870) (1831-1911). Almost simultaneously, and only twenty years after the arrival of the first settlers, The book of Canterbury rhymes appears(1866), an unrealistic poetic balance by CJ Martin: these are conventional compositions, mostly dictated by the impetus of a utopian vision and a cultural background of a religious-Puritan, romantic and more directly Victorian character. The first distinctive element of New Zealand literature is to be found in the documentation on Maori civilization and in the relationship between Maori and Pakeha (ie New Zealanders of white race and of English origin). With Mythology and traditions of the New Zealanders (1854) Sir G. Gray (1812-1898) begins to prepare the way for what in the twentieth century will stand out as a sort of Maori literature. For New Zealand 2003, please check computerannals.com.
NZ made its debut on the international scene with K. Mansfield (1888-1923), one of the most refined storytellers of the twentieth century (Collected stories, 1945; trad. It., Tutti i racconti, 1979). Despite a sensitivity that is always divided between two very different worlds (NZ and Europe), his work fits more rightly into the context of Anglo-Saxon modernist experimentation, to which it adds the Chekhovian lesson.
The fiction finds its first interesting developments with W. Satchell (1860-1942) and J. Mander (1877-1949), but it will only be in the Thirties that the literary separation from the motherland will begin to become more and more aware. JA Lee (1891-1982) with Children of the poor (1934) and R. Hyde (1906-1939) with Passport to hell (1936) and The Dodwitz fly (1938) impose themselves as writers who explore “traits of experience New Zealand never touched before “, while declarations of cultural independence are announced with J. Mulgan (1911-1945), who in Report on experience (1947), a posthumous autobiography, strives for a national literary consciousness. His exhortation is collected by F. Sargeson (1903-1982), who excels above all in the measure of the story and in the use of a colloquial language, typical of the average New Zealander; to his Collected stories (1965) are added a number of novels, from A man and his wife (1940) to Joy of the worm (1969) to the memorial trilogy Once is enough (1972), More han enough (1975), Never enough (1978), and of plays (A time for sowing, 1961; The cradle and the egg, 1962; Wrestling with the Angel, 1964).
The season of fiction continues with Brown man’s burden (1938), Maori stories by R. Finlayson (b. 1904); Roads from home (1949), Not here not now (1970) and the tales of The salamander and the fire: collected war stories (1986) by D. Davin (1913-1990); The young have secrets (1954), A way of love (1959) and A visit to Penmorten (1961), by J. Courage (1905-1963); Owls do cry (1957), The adaptable man (1965), The rainbirds (1968), Intensive care (1970), Living in the Maniototo (1979), The Carpathians (1988) by J. Frame (b. 1924); The race (1958) and Ice cold river (1961) by R. France (1913-1968).
The 1930s also marked the beginning of an authentic New Zealand poetic tradition: an innovative impulse that would last a few decades. MU Bethell (1874-1945), W. D’Arcy Cresswell (1896-1960), ARD Fairburn (1904-1957), RAK Mason (1905-1971) in the syllogs This dark will ligten. Poems 1923-1941 (1941) and Collected poems (1962); D. Glover (1912-1980), author of numerous collections (from Thistledown of 1935 to Since then, 1957; from Sharp edge up: verses and satires, 1968, to Or hawk or basilisk, 1978, to Towards Banks Peninsula, 1979) ; A. Curnow (b.1911), one of the most representative personalities of contemporary New Zealand literature (Valley of Decision, 1933; Sailing or drowning, 1943; Poems 1949-1957, 1957; An abominable temper and other poems, 1973; Selected poems 1940-1989, 1990) and C. Brasch (1909-1973), author of The land and his people (1939), of Home ground (1943), Disputed ground (1948), The estate (1957) and Ambulando (1964), prefer social themes, humble subjects, landscapes, metaphysical reflections, with the care of specific lyrical forms such as the “ ballad ” and the use of a language no longer in a manner but colloquial, aware of the first Georgian lesson and then modernist and imagist. Two important anthologies edited by Curnow – A book of New Zealand verse 1923- 1945 (1945) and The Penguin book of New Zealand verse (1960) – encode an important poetic balance, at the very beginning of a new phase of research, already introduced by some militant magazines: Landfall, founded by Brasch in 1947, and New Zealand poetry yearbook, founded by L. Johnson (b. 1924) in 1951. The latter, in particular, tends to renew the impetus of the first generation, now too stuck in modernist modules and the myth of national identity.
In the three traditional cultural centers – Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch – the new poets move around avant-garde magazines (Ilands, Mate, Arena, Edge, Cave, Argot, Fragments, etc.), the results of which are recorded in The young New Zealand poets (1973), an anthology featuring, among others, A. Baysting (b. 1947), author of Over the horizon (1972); E. Beach (b. 1948); A. Brunton (b. 1946), who wrote Black and white anthology (1976); M. Edmond (b.1949), author of Entering the eye (1973); G. Langford (b. 1947), who added the novel Vanities (1984) to the lyrics of The family (1972); and I. Wedde (b.1946), poet, storyteller and essayist (Made over, 1974; The shirt factory and other stories, 1981; Symmes hole, 1986; Survival arts, 1982; Tendering: new poems, 1988): all authors which offer a valid testimony of the vitality of New Zealand poetry, which today has reached its own individuality also thanks to the recovery of the indigenous cultural and rhythmic heritage. In this context the first Maori poets assert themselves, among which we remember at least H. Tuwhare (b.1922), who gives new life in English to the old primitives tangi (funeral laments) maori (No ordinary sun, 1964; Sap-wood and milk, 1972; Something nothing, 1974; Making a fist of it, 1978; Selected poems, 1980).