Tuesday, June 9, 2009

PEN President

Not long after I shifted from Hamilton to Wellington to work in the old Department of Education I was elected to the Pen Executive. (PEN is, I suppose, best described as the union or association for writers. It recently changed its name in New Zealand to Society of Authors).

In 1987 as I left the house to attend the AGM I said to Anne "I'm stepping down. I've done my share." When I got to Turnbull House the outgoing president Louis Johnson pulled me aside. "I'm off to Menton on the Mansfield Award. I want you to stand in my place." I demurred but his arm-twisting proved successful. I stood and was voted in, arriving home to announce, "Guess, what, I'm President."

I began a series of regional visits for I believed that the leadership of this writers' group should not remained entirely Wellington-based as it had been previously. In Dunedin I stayed with Bill Sewell and met with an enthusiastic group. In Christchurch Elsie Locke led the charge against. Her argument was that as usual Wellington was trying to get the regions to do work it should be doing itself. Disappointed I pointed out that we were all volunteers and Wellington was doing all the work on their behalf and that was both unrepresentative and unfair. I made little progress.

I made plans to go to Auckland but as I was appointed to a position in David Lange’s office I resigned. My replacement Rosemary Wildbood and her successors brought in the transition to a rotating executive. I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if I had stayed on working in literary politics. My brief encounter in Christchurch showed me it could prove as bruising as education politics. As it was I briefly journeyed down that path but didn’t go far. Instead I reverted to education where I remained until my retirement in 2002.

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