Eleanor Catton's tall poppy comments 'bad form' say Book Awards

BAD FORM? The New Zealand Book Awards are unhappy with Eleanor Catton's tall poppy comments.

BAD FORM? The New Zealand Book Awards are unhappy with Eleanor Catton's tall poppy comments.

Eleanor Catton showed "bad form" by speaking out against the New Zealand Book Awards, its organiser says.

The author attracted controversy with comments she made during the Jaipur Literature Festival in India in which she said she was uncomfortable as being seen as an ambassador for New Zealand.

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"We have this strange cultural phenomenon called 'tall poppy syndrome'; if you stand out, you will be cut down," she was reported as saying.

Catton used the example of how her Man Booker prize-winning book The Luminaries missed out on the main prize at last year's New Zealand Post Book Awards.

"There was this kind of thing that now you've won this prize from overseas, we're not going to celebrate it here, we're going to give the award to somebody else."

The Luminaries won the fiction category of the awards. Jill Trevelyan's non-fiction work Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer was named Book of the Year.

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Booksellers chief executive Lincoln Gould said he was "astonished" by Catton's comments that tall poppy syndrome might have affected the judgement. 

Booksellers administers the New Zealand Book Awards.

"The New Zealand Book Awards are multi-category, so in terms of her specialty being fiction, she won the top prize," Gould said.

"I think putting down the judges here in New Zealand was pretty bad form... I don't think it did her brand any good at all."

Broadcaster Miriama Kamo, who convened last year's judging panel, said the judges had been "really proud and really thrilled" to give Catton the fiction award.

"We certainly as judges felt we had honoured her and that was the right thing to do," she said.

"I disagree with her that she has been cut down in any way. Her book has been celebrated across the world and no less, in my view, in New Zealand."

Victoria University Press publisher Fergus Barrowman defended Catton, saying he would always stand by an author's right to express their point of view.

He declined to comment specifically on Catton's reported remarks, but said he believed they had "definitely" been taken out of context.

Meanwhile RadioLive host Sean Plunket added to the fracas by describing Catton as an "ungrateful hua" on air this morning.

Hua is a shortened version of the Maori word "upoko kohua", which means "may your head be boiled and eaten".

Plunket accused Catton of being a traitor and criticised her for bagging New Zealand when she had a taxpayer-funded job as a lecturer in creative writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Some listeners misheard Plunket, thinking he had called Catton an "ungrateful whore", and took to social media to express their outrage.

 - Stuff.co.nz

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