Keri Hulme recalls the events of quarter of a century ago for the Scoop Review of Books:
Tomorrow – 25 years ago – there we were, stumbling off the ferry, the South Island contingent for the launch of ‘tbp.’ I hadnt seen a copy of the book; my younger brother had never been on a marae in his life (he, and my big cousin, John, much later got lost, gone nightclubbing, and only just made it back to the ferry the next day); Iri’s Auntie Tweet trying to persuade me to wear a skirt (she’d packed several in hope-); the book launched like a waka, with my first wero, being interviewed by Sharon Crosbie…o, it is so long ago, and so many dead in the meantime…
as my mother Mary wrote (she’s a calligrapher) in a card to mark the 10th anniversary, that book took us so many places. To a formal welcome in Parliament, and David Lange showing where the Member for Tamaki resided in the PM’s private office suite. To the Library of Congress, USA, and Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde; to Denmark and Scotland and Holland and Amsterdam. And many many other people & places truly undreamed of by any of us.
As for photos of the launch… well, there is one, from the “Evening Standard” (or was it the Dominion Post?) that my mother has in her kitchen, showing Spiral Collective 5 (Marian Evans, Miriama Evans, the late Dr. Irihapeti Ramsden, & self grinning toothily (my teeth were still pretty good then) and clutching a fresh-minted copy of ‘tbp’- unfortunately it is on 1.5cm board, and try as we did, neither my mother nor myself could get it to scan..
Sniff. Retires back into the bunker. Thinks about having a whisky.
Bookman Beattie estimates The Bone People has sold 250,000 copies and reports that its American publisher is planning a 25th anniversary edition in 2010 (the anniversary of its US publication.)
[UPDATE: As Keri has pointed out the bone people had sold a remarkable 1.3 million copies by the early 2002]
And all the more remarkable for being published by a small collective of women after mainstream publishers had rejected it.
Interestingly, Beattie also suggests the two next most successful novels to be first published in New Zealand were also written by Maori authors: Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff, and Witi Ihimaira’s Whale Rider both with about 200,000 sales.
It’s difficult to meaningfully rate the value of any particular work of literature, but when it comes to putting a price on a first edition book you can’t go past TradeMe which currently has a first edition of The Bone People for sale for $250.
Happy birthday to The Bone People, and congratulations and thanks to you, Keri for an important and valuable book.