Christian Karlson “Karl” Stead is one of Aotearoa’s foremost literary icons. He is a novelist, literary critic, poet, essayist and emeritus professor of English of the University of Auckland. Born in 1932, he first started writing poetry as a teenager, while attending Mt Albert Grammar. He went on to graduate from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Arts in 1959, and in 1960 earned his Masters of Arts. At this time he and his wife were neighbours with short-story writer Frank Sargeson. Writer Janet Frame was living in a hut in Sargeson's garden, having recently been discharged after nine years in a mental hospital.
Stead penned his first novel, Smith’s Dream in 1971, which went on to become the basis of a 1977 film, Sleeping Dogs. Other novels include All Visitors Ashore (1984), The Death of the Body (1986), Sister Hollywood (1989), The End of the Century at the End of the World (1992), Villa Vittoria (1997), and Talking About O’Dwyer (1999). The historical novels Mansfield, featuring Katherine Mansfield as its subject, and My Name Was Judas were published in 2004 and 2006. In 2012 he issued Risk, set during the global financial crisis. The Necessary Angel (2017) follows academics in Paris. Stead reminisced about his own early life in South-West of Eden: A Memoir, 1932–1956 (2010).
He has been the recipient of many prestigious awards honouring his services to literature, including a CBE in 1985, and in 2007 New Zealand’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand. His awards for poetry have included the Jessie Mackay award, the New Zealand Book Award for poetry, the King’s Lynn Poetry prize, the Hippocrates Prize for poetry and Medicine, and the Sarah Broom prize. His Collected Poems 1951-2006 received a Montana Prize in 2009. Other literary awards and prizes include the Katherine Mansfield Short Story award, the New Zealand Book Award for fiction (twice), and the Sunday Times/E.F.G. Private Bank short story prize. In 2011 he received the Prime Minister’s Award for fiction. He has had novels translated into 11 European languages.