Professor Stead is regarded as one of New Zealand's leading poets, novelists and critics.
Professor Stead has been involved in New Zealand Literature as a poet, novelist, critic and academic for over 55 years. He was an Professor of English at the University of Auckland for 20 years before taking early retirement to write full time, at which time he was appointed Professor Emeritus. In the Glass Case: Essays on New Zealand Literature demonstrates his easy-to-understand literary criticism and his short story A Fitting Tribute has been reprinted and translated in half a dozen countries.
He has won several awards for his work at the New Zealand Book Awards, Qeusada won the poetry section in 1976, All Visitors Ashore won the fiction section in 1985, The Singing Whakapapa won the fiction section in 1995 and Talking About O’Dwyer was runner up in the fiction category at the 2000 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. His most recent literary work, Mansfield, was a finalist for the 2005 Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize, was a commended title of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the South East Asia and South Pacific Region and was shortlisted at the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards along with his latest poetry collection The Red Tram. He has written over 12 books of poetry including Voices, which was commissioned for the 1990 sesquicentennial celebrations and his novel Smiths Dream was adapted into the film Sleeping Dogs in 1977.
Professor Stead won the Mansfield Fellowship in 1972, was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature in 1995 and was a Senior Visiting Fellow at St John’s College in Oxford in 1996 and 1997. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Bristol in 2001, won the Kings Lynn Poetry prize in 2002 and won the Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers Fellowship in 2005.
Professor Stead was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature in 1985.