Eleanor Catton: Man Booker Prize Speech 2013

Eleanor Catton

Eleanor Catton has won the Man Booker Prize 2013 for her novel The Luminaries, making her the youngest prizewinner ever. Below is the speech she gave, in full, at the ceremony.


Thank you. When I began writing The Luminaries, I was very much in the thrall of Lewis Hyde’s wonderful book, The Gift, as I still am.

And his conception of the creative enterprise as explored in that book was very important to me in how I came to understand the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, during the years of the gold rush.

The region is rich in two very different minerals: gold, prized by Europeans for its value, and greenstone or pounamu, prized by Maori for its worth.
Gold, being pure currency, can only be bought and sold. Pounamu, as a symbol of belonging and prestige, can only be given.

An economy based on value, in Lewis Hyde’s conception, is not necessarily inferior to an economy based on worth, but the two must somehow be reconciled in the life of an artist who wishes to make a living by his or her gift, by his or her art.

On the West Coast, this intersection of economies has a national significance, speaking as it does to New Zealand’s essentially bicultural heart.

I am very aware of the pressures upon contemporary publishing to make money and to remain competitive in a competitive world, and I know that it is no small thing that my primary publishers, Granta, here in London, and Victoria University Press in New Zealand, never once made these pressures known to me while I was writing this book.

I was free throughout to concern myself of questions not of value, but of worth.

This is all the more incredible to me because The Luminaries is and was from the very beginning a publisher’s nightmare. The shape and form of the book made certain kinds of editorial suggestions not only mathematically impossible, but even more egregious, astrologically impossible.

A very sensible email from one of my two editors, Sara Holloway or Max Porter, might have even earned the very annoying and not at all sensible reply, ‘Well you would think that, being a Virgo.’

I am extraordinarily fortunate to have found a home at these publishing houses and to have found friends and colleagues and people who have managed to strike an elegant balance between making art and making money.

To everybody at Granta and at Victoria University Press back home, thank you.

I would also like to make some very brief but heartfelt individual thanks. To my editors, Sara Holloway and Max Porter, whose influence on The Luminaries has been conspiratorial, rigorous and, for me, incredibly personally sustaining.

To my publishers Fergus Barrowman, Philip Gwyn Jones and Sigrid Rausing, who were kind enough to take a chance on me.

And to my dear agent Caroline Dawnay in whom I trust completely.

I must also thank my beloved, Steve Toussaint, whose kindness, patience and love is written on every page of my book.

Lastly I would like to thank the Man Booker Prize and this year’s judging panel for considering my work alongside the work of such wonderful and important writers as NoViolet Bulawayo, Jim Crace, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ruth Ozeki, and Colm Toibin, and also for providing the value and the worth, jointly, of this extraordinary prize. Thank you.

Read an extract from Eleanor Catton’s first appearance in Granta here, and listen to her talking about her winning novel, The Luminaries, on the Granta podcast.


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