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Books: Who Runs the Book World? Power Ranking New Zealand Literature

Who are the most powerful figures in New Zealand literature? The most respected, the most admired, the most sucked-up-to? A panel of experts sat down and bitched and argued until they agreed on a ranking to end all rankings. Their methodology was precise. Much of it was based on the level of fear they would experience if they fucked someone over. Read on!

1. Eleanor Catton

The Cat! St Cat. Our Lady of Divine Catness. No one in New Zealand literature carries as much heft and clout and mana and all that as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize. You cross her at your peril. Critics of her work are dismissed as bitter men of advanced years who grudge her looks and talent. Her novel The Luminaries sold more than the combined sales of New Zealand fiction published in the last 10 years. Someone just bought a copy while this paragraph was written. Her opinions about the New Zealand way of life became a media scandal this year; no other New Zealand novelist arouses the slightest bit of interest when they express much harsher opinions. She’s quite possibly in possession of genius and she’s a very nice person.

2. Nicola Legat

Everyone wondered who would stay on as publisher when Random and Penguin merged – Legat, from Random, or Penguin’s Debra Miller? Miller got the gig but Legat got the last laugh. As chair of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, she presides over every publisher in the land. The awards looked dead in the water after principal sponsor NZ Post took off, but Legat and her team achieved a fantastic result in landing a new sponsor, Ockham, and the Acorn Foundation, which will cough up $50,000 in prize money to the novelist the year. Arise, Lady Bountiful of New Zealand letters!

3. Emily Perkins

Brilliant novelist (A Novel About My Wife was awesome), the best-ever host of a TV books show (The Good Word), creative writing teacher (there’s a door with her name on it at the Institute of Modern Letters), playwright sort of (she updated Ibsen’s A Dolls House, produced earlier this year by the Auckland Theatre Company), and screenwriter (with director Alison Mclean, she’s co-writer of the film version of Eleanor Catton’s debut novel, The Rehearsals, currently in production)…she’s royalty, basically. Princessly.

4. Maree Brown

Arts policy manager, Ministry and Culture and Heritage; advises Creative New Zealand; oversees the international literary fairs (helps decide who goes to Frankfurt etc); and sits on the board of the Public Lending Right for Authors. The sum total is that she’s the top-ranking civil servant in New Zealand letters – she’s more Wellington than a southerly, and just as powerful.

5. Kim Hill

There’s not an author in New Zealand who would turn down the opportunity of an interview with Hill on her awesome Saturday morning show on Radio New Zealand. It’s the best exposure there is to an audience which includes the remnants of the New Zealand intelligentsia, and there’s also the honour of having her brilliant mind engage with the author’s work. That voice! It can make anything sound interesting.

6. Anne O’Brien

The director of the Auckland Writers Festival – “my festival”, as she so charmingly calls it – picks and chooses which New Zealand writers will appear at the blazingly popular event. You cross her, you’re off the list, down the road, author non grata. But she forgives and forgets, and will do what she thinks best for her programme, her audience, her festival.

7. CK Stead

The old rascal of New Zealand letters – 83 next month – recently added the accolade of New Zealand Poet Laureate to his incredible collection of awards, gongs, prizes and various sundry recognitions to a writing career which began when New Zealand literature was kept behind a glass case. He visited Frame. He gave Baxter money. He lived opposite Curnow. He wrote the best critical essays of New Zealand writing and he’s authored novels, verse and memoirs of a crazily high standard for over 50 years. He’s the Man.

8. Malcolm Burgess

As senior arts adviser of the literature portfolio at Creative New Zealand, Burgess holds the purse-strings of government spending on authors and publishers. Wanting a grant? Hoping to hoof it to Berlin or Menton as writer in residence? Needing to place your snout in the trough for whatever reason? Burgess stands guard. No one knows what he looks like but he could be that person standing next to you at a wine and cheese event in Wellington. Be careful what you say. Don’t even go out.

9. Rachael King

The director of the Christchurch WORD literary events festival is responsible for New Zealand’s most creative festival programme – she got in Kirsten Hersh from Throwing Muses, last week she got in best-selling lesbian author Sarah Waters – and makes every author in the country want to be a part of it.

10. Damien Wilkins

Maree Brown’s husband.


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