UPDATED: Eleanor Catton says NZ run by greedy politicians
Eleanor Catton, who won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries, has ignited a media firestorm with her comments that New Zealand is dominated by “neo-liberal, profit obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture.”
She also said she feels uncomfortable being an ambassador for New Zealand because it isn’t doing as much as it could for the intellectual world and is guilty of “tall poppy syndrome.”
Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams implied Ms Catton's comments were hypocritical because taxpayers have largely funded her education and career.
"For example, Ms Catton's most notable work, The Luminaries, was completed while being on a six-month residency funded by Creative New Zealand," he said in statement.
"If Ms Catton isn’t thankful for the substantial support by the New Zealand Government while she wrote The Luminaries, maybe she could use some of the substantial royalties to pay the money back."
Radio Live host Sean Plunkett made similar comments this morning and has received a significant backlash after he called her an "ungrateful hua."
NZ Society of Authors Kyle Mewburn tells NBR ONLINE he fully endorses Ms Catton's statement and that there has been a kneejerk response.
"It shows how you can't express your point of view in public without being called unpatriotic," he says.
"I think it's more patriotic because she wants the country to be better and challenge the status quo."
In response to crticism of Ms Catton receiving public funds, Mr Mewburn says writers generally get very few grants from the government compared to athletes.
Author Alan Duff has also supported Ms Catton, writing in the NZ Herald that New Zealand is "a cultural wasteland, which you can see reflected right across our media. A garbage-strewn land ruled over by mediocrities fiercely and ruthlessly possessive of the high ground they've seized."
Prime Minister John Key said he was disappointed with Ms Catton's comments.
"I'm disappointed if she doesn't have respect for the work we do because I have tremendous respect for what she does as a writer," he said.
"She has been aligned with the Green Party, and that probably summarises the Green Party view of this Government."
Ms Catton has since denied the claim on her Twitter account:
I spoke twice without pay at Green Party events; donated one signed book & $500; bought two tshirts & one bumper sticker at no discount. 1/2— Eleanor Catton (@EleanorCatton) January 27, 2015
I'm not a member of the party, but I applaud their vision, leadership, and integrity, and in the last election they had my vote. 2/2— Eleanor Catton (@EleanorCatton) January 27, 2015
I also admire many things about the Labour Party, & would have voted for a Labour MP if I hadn't been in the gerrymandered Epsom electorate.— Eleanor Catton (@EleanorCatton) January 27, 2015
Ms Catton had her comments reported by Live Mint.
She said that once writers' work had been acknowledged they could become "very indulgent."
"When you are on stage, a lot your experiences are things you are talking about again and again and again and it can be seductive, you can start thinking you are quite important. You need to remember that you are not important at all. It’s what you give to your work, not what the work gives to you."
However, this contrasts with earlier comments in the interview:
"We have this strange cultural phenomenon called “tall poppy syndrome”; if you stand out, you will be cut down."
She pointed to the example of The Luminaries winning the international Man Brooker Prize but not being awarded the New Zealand Book Award.
"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," she said.
However, Mr Mewburn says The Luminaries was not overlooked in New Zealand because it won in the fiction category of the New Zealand Book Awards.
Booksellers (which runs the NZ Book Awards) chief executive Lincoln Gould told Stuff he was "astonished" by Ms Catton's comments about tall poppy syndrome having sway on the 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."