Literary scholar and writer Sarah Shieff will receive the 2020 research grant to assist her latest project, to publish a collection of the letters of poet Allen Curnow ONZ CBE (1911-2001).

Noting that Allen Curnow is widely recognised as New Zealand’s most distinguished poet, Sarah aims to “tell the story of his long life in his own words”. She believes that publishing his letters will go some way to make up for the fact that he never wrote his own autobiography.

Sarah Shieff is Associate Professor of English in the School of Arts, University of Waikato. She has previously published Letters of Frank Sargeson (Random House, 2012), and her Letters of Denis Glover (Otago University Press, 2020) is forthcoming.

From her previous research on the letters of Frank Sargeson and especially of Denis Glover – who was Allen Curnow’s oldest and closest friend – Sarah is ideally placed to make use of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s extensive holdings. As well as preparing a scholarly edition of Curnow’s letters for publication, she plans to develop a fully-searchable database that will assist future scholars.

Kate Fortune, president of the Friends of the Turnbull Library is delighted that the 2020 research grant will be $20,000 in the centenary year of the Alexander Turnbull Library. She said “This is the first time we have been able to offer $20,000 to a researcher, and we feel that Sarah’s project is particularly apt for the Turnbull’s centenary year.

“This latest grant brings the total number of projects assisted by the Friends of the Turnbull Library to eighteen since the first grant (of $5000) was awarded to Philip Norman in 2004 for his biography of Douglas Lilburn. Six biographies have been awarded research grants and a very diverse range of other projects including a history of rugby league (awarded in 2017), and Nick Bollinger’s current project on New Zealand’s ‘Counterculture 1960-75’ (awarded last year).

“The Alexander Turnbull Library – a world-class research library that attracts scholars from around the globe – provides fertile soil for many diverse research projects. We would love to be able to support more researchers,” Ms Fortune said. “We encourage people who might be able to make donations or to set up bequests to come and talk to us about how they could help.”