New Zealand author James Courage was born in Christchurch in 1903, and he became aware of his homosexuality during his adolescent years. He moved to London in 1927 and began writing novels, plays, poems and short stories. He was much more sexually open than most of his homosexual writer contemporaries – Frank Sargeson, Eric McCormick, Charles Brasch and Bill Pearson. Courage’s A Way of Love, published in 1959, was the first gay novel written by a New Zealander, and some of his other seven novels (including Fires in the Distance and The Call Home) contain queer characters.
This project presents Courage’s unpublished work to a modern audience. James Courage Diaries, an edited edition of a selection from Courage’s private journals published in 2021, evokes his travels from New Zealand to England and the men he met in London’s streets. It chronicles landscapes and indoor settings: shipboard life, a sanitorium, air raid shelters during the war, private parties, and the psychiatrist’s clinic at a time when society was deeply ambivalent about homosexuality. The book can be purchased from Otago University Press.
The website www.genrebooks.co.nz will offer two other previously unpublished works, each with a short introduction, as free downloads. Private History is Courage’s 1938 play about sex and love between boys in an English secondary school [download here]. This was well-received by reviewers and the audiences at London’s Gate Theatre. The Promising Years is one of two volumes of autobiography that covers Courage’s growing up in Canterbury and his early years at Oxford University. Courage had wanted to see this published during his lifetime, but he could not interest any publishers in it. Marcel Proust’s seven-volume A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) was an important inspiration. Online publication of The Promising Years is imminent.