Rachel Barrowman

Mason: The Life Of R.A.K. Mason

ISBN: 9780864734631

Winner - Biography Prize, 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards

The story of how R.A.K. Mason dumped 200 copies of his first book, The Beggar, into Auckland harbour, in disappointment, disgust or despair because no-one would buy it, is a legend in New Zealand literary history: a symbol of a time – the 1920s and 1930s – when a true, vital, native literature struggled to be written or heard in a provincial and puritanical country.

The full story of the gifted but troubled man behind the legend is told for the first time in this elegant and accessible biography.

Rachel Barrowman investigates the puzzle of why, after his extraordinary beginning Mason almost completely stopped writing poetry. Was it because of ‘the failure of a gift’, to quote C.K. Stead?

Mason’s political beliefs prompted him to turn his creative energies to left-wing theatre movements in the 1930s; for ten years after the war he worked for the Auckland General Labourers’ Union, on the militant left-wing of the labour movement; he became heavily involved in the NZ China Society.

Family pressures were also part of Mason’s struggle: his father died when he was eight (some have conjectured by suicide); he had a very close relationship with his demanding mother; and he was drawn deeply into the money-making schemes of his brother Dan, a disbarred lawyer.

Late in life, Mason as diagnosed with manic depressive illness. Might this provide a clue to the patterns of behaviour seen throughout his life?

MASON: THE LIFE OF R.A.K. MASON is a major contribution to New Zealand literary history, and the deeply moving story of a life.

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