Sarah Shieff is associate professor of English at the University of Waikato. She is the editor of the Journal of New Zealand Literature, and has written Talking Music: Conversations with New Zealand Musicians, edited Speaking Frankly: The Frank Sargeson Memorial Lectures 2003–2010, contributed a chapter to Jewish Lives in New Zealand, and has written numerous articles on New Zealand writing. In selecting and editing over 500 of Frank Sargeson’s letters to over 100 recipients, in Letters of Frank Sargeson she brings together an impeccable academic training, a background in research, and a wide knowledge of New Zealand literature.
Elizabeth Alley, in The New Zealand Listener, applauded Sarah Shieff’s Letters of Frank Sargeson for offering ‘an intimacy and insight that capture the writer in a way even Michael King’s biography couldn’t.’ Shieff’s editing has been critically acclaimed, North & South declaring the volume ‘a total joy. . . . Shieff’s selection appears exemplary and her editing is first-rate . . . For anyone interested in New Zealand writing, this is a gift in every sense.’ In Landfall, Lawrence Jones commended that Shieff’s ‘editorial touch is unobtrusive’ and that ‘the selection finds a useful middle ground between the concerns of the academic researcher and those of the general reader’. He concluded: ‘The letters are a stimulating challenge to reassess the importance of Sargeson’s later writings and perhaps to complicate our sense of what kind of writer he was and possibly deepen our sense of what kind of complex human being he was.’ Shieff’s selection and annotation have been praised not only for bringing a real sense of Sargeson the man and writer (‘Many people such as Shieff have kept [Sargeson’s] work alive and pertinent. The result of her efforts is a marvellous labour of love for a remarkable personality.’ — Bay of Plenty Times), but also for the light they shine on New Zealand’s wider literary landscape. Investigate noted that Letters of Frank Sargeson is ‘an extraordinary read for it includes letters from every notable literary figure of the Sargeson era’. ‘We get the sense of a literary life lived against the grain of the surrounding world,’ wrote the Sunday Star Times, adding that ‘Sarah Shieff has given us a wonderful addition to our canon, the value of a biography, through which the most distinctive voice in our literature will always speak to us, keeping alive his extraordinary and touching existence.’ ‘Sarah Shieff has made an impeccable job of editing this book . . . this engaging book should be on the shelf of anyone with a serious interest in New Zealand writing.’ — Weekend Herald