A Literary Life: John Freeman – WORD Christchurch

This event got off to a good start – interviewer Paula Morris dropped all her notes on the floor but said it didn’t matter anyway as she had managed to flush her specs down the loo of the Air New Zealand flight from Auckland the night before. John Freeman guffawed. And we were off!

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John Freeman and Roberta.

It’s National Poetry Day  and they both read a favourite poem. Freeman’s was one that he had first seen on a train in the New York subway. It is by Tracy Kay Smith who is a young writer and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Freeman (former Granta Editor and currently owner of his own literary journal Freeman’s) says of her writing: ‘when you read her work, you start to think that this is the only way those words could be arranged’. He loves poetry and writes it himself. It started as a way to get dates, but the poems were bad and he suffered the simultaneous rejection of his poetry and himself!

Here are three things you might not know about John Freeman:

  • He is a middle child – ‘the overlooked one’.
  • He went to Quaker schools and a Quaker campus. He holds their ideals in high esteem – especially their anti-war stance.
  • When he can’t sleep he watches drag racing videos on YouTube!

He calls himself ‘a professional child athlete’ who really only started reading in earnest in his late teens. And what did he read? Three hugely formative novels were: Neville Shute’s On the Beach; George Orwell’s 1984 and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

As for what he wants for his new venture Freeman’s, he is very clear that he wants it to be about the stories that we tell each other, as opposed to being yet another journal about the act of writing. He is constantly astounded by the number of young writers (many of whom he lectures) who want to write and earn money from writing but won’t subscribe to a journal – arguably the best starting point for any aspiring writer. ‘For the price of a few beers …’ he says wistfully ‘they could invest in their own future’.

It was a great session, relaxed and densely packed with new ideas and lovely words. Time to get my copies of Freeman’s signed. And let the truth be known, this was not the first time I had met John Freeman. Six years ago at Auckland Writers Festival in 2010 when he was the editor of the prestigious Granta literary magazine, I bought a Granta as a gift for a friend. He’d just been berated by a festival goer for using bad language, so without hesitation, when he signed my copy he wrote: ‘To Allison, All the best (insert rude word) morons love this book, hope you do too.’

Till next time John Freeman!

Read books by John Freeman in our collection.

More WORD Christchurch

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