A library group has cancelled a reading by an internationally published New Zealand author because the sex and swearing in her stories could offend the mainly elderly audience.
Thames writer Tracey Slaughter who has had poems and short stories published overseas and has won New Zealand literary awards says the decision by the Friends of the Thames Library chairman to cancel her appearance this week amounts to censorship.
"If that's their attitude to literature then I would question whether they are in the right job."
Friends of the Library Thames branch chairman Robin Plummer denied he was being prudish.
Slaughter was due to read her short story Note left on a window on Thursday.
Her story - about a woman's grief and rage over her boyfriend's suicide - starts with a graphic description of sex with a hitchhiker. The protagonist's anger is portrayed in lines such as: "Michael's mother was a slut and a slave".
It beat hundreds of entries to feature in a short story collection Six Pack, promoted during NZ Book Month as representing some of the best fresh Kiwi writing. Some 30,000 copies have been printed and the book is being distributed to libraries and secondary schools nationwide.
Slaughter's story was chosen unanimously by a panel of judges.
The six winners each won $5000 and last Sunday they read excerpts from their stories at Te Papa museum. Book Month organisers arranged for the authors to read their stories in their home towns, mainly in public libraries, and on August 13 Plummer agreed to host the Thames winner without knowing who it was.
However, on Monday Thames Library co-ordinator Linda Hayfield told Book Month organisers Plummer had just read Slaughter's story and "would not like her to speak".
Hayfield said there was concern the story could offend the library group, which was mainly elderly. "The chairman is not censoring Tracey, it's just that the audience is not appropriate," she told the Sunday Star-Times. "It's just the nature of the story... I'm not going to go into that."
But Plummer told the paper Slaughter's reading clashed with a pre-arranged speaker, although he would not say who this was. He denied he had read Slaughter's story.
"I think it's great what she's done. I think that warrants a large Thames audience with a public meeting at the library, and Friends of the Library are quite happy to organise that."
NZ Book Month project manager Phil Twyford said he was "really sorry" the library group would not hear Slaughter's story, as she was one of New Zealand's "most exciting, emerging writers". The reading would be held at a bookshop instead.
Slaughter said the library group was not representative of Thames.
"Yes, it's a small town but it's a small town in the 21st century with what I consider is a great dynamic and a community of open minds."
- Sunday Star Times