One of my favourite jobs of editing was when Longacre Press decided to publish The Accidental Anthropologist, a memoir by ethnographer and poet Michael Jackson — New Zealand born but living and teaching at Harvard Divinity School in the US. It was quite a tome and I swam though it many times during the processes of selection, editorial discussion, copy editing and proof-reading.
Michael wrote: '... my lifelong preoccupation with renewal ... lies in the childhood fantasy without which I could not have endured – that another life awaited me elsewhere, or with another, and once reborn in that other world, I would find fulfilment and happiness.' In the book, Michael draws on his own rich experience and research in NZ, Africa, Europe and Australia, on the writings of his own literary heroes, and on his interactions with writers, thinkers and anthropological texts.
He likens his life course to that of a shape shifter, making it apparent that our lives are as various as the bonds we form and the social landscapes through which we move.
I never tired of engaging with the language and ideas made vivid in Michael's lucid prose – he is also an admired poet. Swimming is an apt metaphor — it was a book to be swallowed by, a book to brace and exhilarate the reader.
... spellbinding. Literary memoir at its best. Vincent O'Sullivan
I was thrilled when Michael agreed to publish his new memoir with Rosa Mira Books, work in which he returns to the themes of 'firstness' and renewal; the tidal pull of the past, and the yearning for the elusive.
Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes will be published on Rosa Mira Books on Saturday, NZ time — Friday evening in EST.
I'll write more about it here tomorrow.