Monday, June 18, 2012

Kind of shocked...

A brief intermission during my absence so I can express my sadness at yesterday's announcement about New Zealand's contingent to go to the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair. This is the world's biggest book fair and we are sending 60 authors and 100 performers. Our once in a lifetime opportunity as authors here in this country and we are outnumbered by performers and representatives of other interests (only 35% authors in total, and only 3% of those going write for children, not quite 2% if you look at those with writing for children as their main writing/occupation). Shouldn't this be all about books and our literary culture? Why then the business and cultural and tourism emphases?  Even the Germans seem a little surprised. As the article says - at a book fair include the books. The authors do seem to have been marginalised. The authors who are going were partly selected on the basis that a German publisher has already picked up one or more of their titles.Won't those titles already selected by the Germans already be benefiting from their investment? To maximise the benefit of this opportunity wouldn't it be a good idea to take books that weren't already getting any European exposure? It is incredibly hard to get material seen overseas for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of writing. Here was an opportunity, a never-to-be-repeated-while-I-am-alive chance, for people like me - to be seen and heard and read. And it really didn't have to be me. I can think of writers of quality and originality who I was sure would be selected, but who weren't. And if we can't afford to send the writers, could we at least send more books?  Writing is not an easy way to make a living here. We are a small country. Imagine what impact it might have had to have the chance to show off a book in Germany at the world's biggest Book Fair. It might have been easier if NZ had not had this opportunity. I guess I thought it would be different.

As Richard Flanagan said in his article on book prizes in Australia in the Brisbane Times on June 16, "Writing rarely brings writers money or even respect. If it offers a certain freedom, it is one edged for most with loneliness, poverty and despair." I don't think things are that different in New Zealand. We don't feel celebrated at the best of times, and this wonderful event sadly, somehow, seems to be no exception.

I am confused. Today I read this about NZ at Frankfurt. Guest Country of Honour status offers the most comprehensive opportunity we have seen in many decades to strengthen New Zealand/German ties in culture, business, tourism, diplomacy and education. If this is indeed the intention behind naming NZ as Country of Honour at this years fair then I think NZ has pulled together a remarkable display. But Germany seems to be wondering why we are focusing on business, culture and tourism instead of books. Has something been lost in translation? Is Guest Country of Honour Status about a country's Literature or is it something else entirely? Whatever happens I hope there is some long term excitement generated for books by NZ authors. 

1 comment:

Old Kitty said...


"at a book fair inclue the books"

Nuff said.

Take care