Biography

Allen Curnow was born in Timaru in 1911. His Father was an Anglican clergyman who moved the Curnow family to many locations mainly in Canterbury. When he was 18 he began to work at the Sun in Christchurch. After two years working there he left to pursue studies for the Anglican ministry at St John’s College in Auckland. It was there that his first poems were published in the journals Kiwi and Phoenix. His first book of poetry, “Valley of Decision”, appeared in 1933.

He decided not to pursue the Anglican ministry and returned to work at The Press in Christchurch. While there he got to know many others involved in the Arts scene of Christchurch including Denis Glover, R.A.K. Mason and A.R.D. Fairburn. He continued to publish books of poetry with the Caxton Press. In 1945 he was the editor of a book of New Zealand Verse and the introduction for that helped to shape thinking about poetry in New Zealand for many years to come. He also contributed to newspapers as “whim-wham” which was satirical verse commenting on issues of the day and these books were also published under that name.

In 1949 he worked in London before returning to New Zealand to work at the University of Auckland. He worked there in the English department until retiring in 1976. He continued to publish poems towards the end of the century and his last book was published in the year that he died in 2011. His career was a long and fruitful one with many awards – as an example he won the New Zealand Book Award for poetry in 1958, 1963, 1975 and 1980.

Terry Storm was writing a biography of Allen Curnow before his untimely death and it not clear if it will be finished and published.  There are some references on the internet that indicate it will be published.  Peter Simpson has written a book in 2016 called ‘Bloomsbury South’ about the Arts scene in Christchurch between 1933-1953 which features Allen Curnow.  Also, C.K. Stead included an essay on Allen Curnow in his book “Next of Kin” which is a series of essays on New Zealand authors.

Other useful references and more complete detailed information is included at the following links:

This is a documentary from 2001 about Allen Curnow: https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/early-days-yet-2001

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand has an excellent biography written by Terry Sturm:http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/6c1/curnow-thomas-allen-monro

New Zealand Book Council also has a very detailed biography: http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/curnowa.html

Poetry Archive has a biography and also Allen Curnow reading one of his poems: http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/allen-curnow

Allen Curnow. Journal of New Zealand Literature 15 (1997), special issue.

Roddick, Alan. Allen Curnow. Wellington: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Stead, C. K. Kin of place: essays on 20 New Zealand writers. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002.

Sturm, Terry, ed. The Oxford history of New Zealand literature in English. 2nd ed. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Poetry Archive has Allen Curnow reading one of his poems here: http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/allen-curnow