Wystan Curnow

ANZL Member

The Writer at work over lunch in downtown Marfa, Texas. Photo credit: Toby Curnow

Born in Christchurch in 1939, Wystan Curnow’s distinguished, multi-faceted career has spanned over five decades. A widely regarded poet, critic, curator and editor, Wystan has published six collections of poetry, authored or edited 18 books of art and literary criticism, and curated more than 20 exhibitions in New Zealand and internationally. Wystan ‘allows the mundane to filter in, unadulterated,’ wrote Christina Barton. ‘He mixes art, life and setting, and turns the abstract, universal time of the art he describes into something real and durational’.

Moving freely between literature and the arts, theory and practice, Wystan’s keen observations in the form of long essays, reviews and reports have provided essential, in-depth commentary on New Zealand contemporary art since 1970. His collection of art writings, The Critic’s Part (Victoria UP, 2014), was awarded the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand’s gold medal for best collection (2015), and in 2005 he became a Companion to the New Zealand Order of Merit for contributions to art and literature. He was awarded the 2018 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in non-fiction.

Wystan completed an MA in English at the University of Auckland (1961), and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania (1970) with a thesis on Herman Melville. He lectured for many years at the University of Auckland, teaming up with Roger Horrocks and Michele Leggott on an influential course in American poetry. Wystan has held writer’s residences in Buffalo, New York, Avize, Champagne, Giaoli, Tuscany, and Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. In 2009, he was Distinguished International Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Wystan co-edits the journal Reading Room, published by the E. H. McCormick Research Library at the Auckland Art Gallery, and co-directs JAR, New Zealand’s first solar powered art gallery in Kingsland, Auckland.

In 2020 Wystan was awarded a CLNZ / NZSA research grant for his project Colin McCahon, Let Us Possess One World.

He currently resides in Northcote, Auckland.



Victoria University Press author page

Random House Books author page

Creative New Zealand Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Acheivement media release (2018)

NZ Listener review of The Critic’s Part: Wystan Curnow Art Writings 1971-2013 (Jan, 2015)

Radio New Zealand interview with Wystan (Nov, 2014)

Reading Room Journal

Bibliography: Wystan Curnow



The Art Hotel (split/fountain, 2014)

Modern Colours (Jack Books, 2005)

Castor Bay, pictures & proses (Holloway Press, 1996)

Cancer Daybook (Vanguard Xpress, 1989)

Back in the USA (Black Light Press, 1989)

'My readers turn up...and I meet them as human beings, not sales statistics on a royalty statement.' Fleur Adcock

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