It’s not often this blog breaks a story and nothing is real until it’s in the MSM but NBR confirms today that NZ Post will end its generous sponsorship of the national book awards – both the children’s and the adults’ – after this year. It’s a $200,000+ deal so impossible to justify for a company in a sunset industry:
The state-owned enterprise, which has been grappling to return its ailing mail business to profit, will give up the naming rights to the book awards at the end of 2014, after sponsoring the adult awards for the last four years, and the children's book prizes since 1996.
Nearly two decades is a very long sponsorship. Can’t complain when it stops. But there is some good news:
Backing for literacy programmes, such as those run by the Howard League, Literacy Aotearoa and Books in Homes will continue.
God knows where Booksellers NZ will find a replacement sponsor for either award. I was a judge for the adult awards five times under three sponsors – Goodman Fielder Wattie in 1993, Montana in 1994 (as convenor), 1999 and 2000 (as convenor) and NZ Post in 2010 (as convenor). I don’t know how/why Wattie became a sponsor, but I do know that the Montana and NZ Post sponsorships were driven by the companies’ then CEOs, Peter Hubscher and John Allen, who were keen on culture and books especially. Over the years both sets of awards have made a huge contribution.
This is a less sentimental age, and the bottom line rules as never before. I could see a benefit to both Montana and NZ Post in aligning themselves with books – but how many other companies/industries would in 2014? The awards will survive, of course they will, but probably on a smaller scale.
Which is a bugger, frankly, because the bigger-scale awards dinners were always great. I have fond memories of:
1991: the booing, led by Kevin Ireland and enthusiastically joined in by the rest of our table, of the top award to Vol 1 of the NZ Dictionary of Biography. Editor and publisher got the money; the contributors didn’t.
1993: the distinguished novelist who, convinced he would win the big prize, sat beside me and was very chummy before the announcement and after it flounced off with “Well!” He didn’t speak to me for at least a decade after. Until he wanted something. That’s authors for you.
1994: the distinguished poet who drunkenly propositioned the very proper wife of a judge – a real courtroom judge, not a book awards judge.
1999: poetry award winner Vincent O’Sullivan gracefully gliding across the dance floor with non-fiction winner Heather Nicholson.
2000: me reluctantly introducing the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, an old friend of whom I was protective, to a very pissed publisher who proceeded to set her straight on how she should be running the country.2010: the Tuhoe takeover of the event for Judith Binney’s The Encircled Land, and Pip Desmond’s mates coming on stage to sing in celebration of her win for Trust: a true story of women and gangs. I was stuck on stage behind them and had no idea how long they would take. It must have been terrifying for our outwardly unflappable MC Jennifer Ward-Lealand who had to keep the show running to schedule, but I loved it. Maori as, and especially wonderful in the context of the Langham Hotel and a totally urban Pakeha audience.
Other people will have other memories. I wasn’t present, for example, when academic historian Jamie Belich caused a scene when non-academic historian Michael King won the non-fiction award. Poets, too, have been known to take exception to the ref’s decision.
In whatever form the awards take in 2015 and later, I fervently hope that bad behaviour from authors and publishers will continue.