OBITUARY: Winnie Davin

The story of Winnie Davin's life, admirably told by Keith Ovenden [obituary, 18 April], merits amplification in one respect - the part she played, as a student at Otago University in the late 1920s, in the revival of New Zealand writing, writes Sir Geoffrey Cox.

The Twenties were not a good period for literature in New Zealand. The death of Katherine Mansfield in 1922 had emphasised how limited was the literary output in the country from which, to fulfil her great talent, she had gone into voluntary exile in Britain. No novels of significance, and little verse of merit, were published in the decade following the First World War in New Zealand. The ethos of the period did not favour literary effort. New Zealand was characterised by small farmers struggling to survive, keeping going only by hard, mind-numbing physical work for themselves and their families. Against this background - and it was the background from which Winnie Gonley, as she then was, came - writing seemed effete. A medical student at Otago University who was a star rugby footballer, and who had played for the All Blacks, insisted that a short story he had written for a student publication be published anonymously. ''My place in the team would be at risk if anyone knew I wrote short stories,'' he said. ''They would think that I was going soft.''

With no general literary magazines to encourage talent, the role of the universities became very important. The annual student magazines, published in each of the four university centres, became vital outlets for creativity. At Otago Winnie Gonley played a key role, not only because of her short stories and her poems, but by encouraging others to write. She had a keen eye for talent, and showed already that blend of human warmth and sharp, candid intellect which was her great characteristic. During her editorship of the University Review, and through the Literary Society of which she was a founder member, many writers first found their way into print. Foremost among them, of course, was Dan Davin, whose work she was to sustain and guide through their long lives together.

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