New Zealand author Eleanor Catton, youngest ever winner of the UK’s Man Booker Prize with her novel The Luminaries, has also won two of the top prizes in the New Zealand Post Book Awards. And in her acceptance speech, Catton announced that she would be using the prize money and her other income from writing to support a new, as yet unnamed, grant to give New Zealand writers more time to read.
Although denied the most prestigious prize in the Awards, the New Zealand Post Book of the Year Award, by Jill Trevelyan’s Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer, Catton took away the Fiction award and the People’s Choice award for The Luminaries. The judges said of the book: ““It is sprawling, brilliant; there’s a virtuosity to the work that affirms every accolade that justifies all praise. Eleanor Catton is an extraordinary writer who has conducted a bold experiment and, in the tradition of great and celebrated risk-takers, it has paid off richly.” Apparently, her book has already sold over 117,000 copies in the New Zealand market alone.
Catton received a combined NZ$15,000 ($12,485) in prize money for the two awards. And in her acceptance speech, she announced that, now that she was in the “extraordinary position” of being able to earn a living from her writing, she would do as one of the characters in The Luminaries did, and give some of the money away. “Writers are readers first, indeed our love of reading is what unites us above all else,” she said. “If our reading culture in New Zealand is dynamic, diverse, and informed, our writing culture will be too.”
Catton has already spoken out on the importance of reading, and a broad literary culture in general, to the reception of literature, stating in a New Zealand Metro article, that: “The idea that a work of literature might require something of its reader in order to be able to provide something to its reader is equivalent, in a consumer context, to the idea that a cut-price mobile phone might require a very expensive charger in order for it to function.” Little wonder, then, that she is giving her peers the opportunity to read more deeply in support of their art. She is leaving the grant unnamed for now in the hope of attracting some “nice philanthropist” to top it up.