Thursday, August 8, 2013

Another stoush at the NZ Society of Authors

On 11 March James McNeish delivered the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture, an event jointly sponsored by Book Month and the NZ Society of Authors.  The lecture was titled “Two Cheers for Eccentricity” and was billed as offering “a non-academic approach to the theme of creative non-fiction” (you can listen to it here, courtesy of Radio NZ). An  edited version was later published in the society’s magazine the NZ Author but seems not be online, and nor does the complete text.

Philip Temple, who like McNeish has published both fiction and non-fiction,  disagreed with much of what McNeish said, so he wrote a short article in reply for the Author setting out his own views on creative non-fiction. Quote unquote:
There is room for every kind of genre and theme in our literature but, I suggest, readers do like to know what they are reading. McNeish, not for the first time, tries to blur the boundaries for no good reason.
Any editor likes to get material like this – a serious response to a major feature in the magazine, by a name writer. It’s a big issue, and here are two of the Big Beasts of NZ literature debating it – wonderful for the readers. When I was editor of the Author I would have jumped at this.

However, the current editor rejected it, saying, “While your views might be quite valid, I can’t see that they would be of much interest to the NZSA membership generally.” Which is odd, because creative non-fiction is hugely important to writers. As Temple says in a group email to other senior authors:
In reply, I said that he was denying the right of reply to something published in the Author, ‘unacceptable in an organisation affiliated with International PEN’. I also said that issues surrounding ‘creative non-fiction’ were a hot topic in creative writing courses, and of interest to many members. ‘By publishing only one writer's views, flawed in my opinion, you do a disservice to the writing community.’
He has posted the article on his blog – you can read it here – inviting comments on both it and its non-publication by the Author. Do join in.

Personally I don’t see it as censorship, more cock-up than conspiracy, an ill-advised decision based on the notion that members want to know only how to get published and nothing else, that they have no interest in the wider issues. So why publish the McNeish piece in the first place if you think the members wouldn’t be interested in a reply to it?

I suspect that this was not the editor’s decision alone. The focus of the organisation now seems to be on beginner and unpublished writers, rather than practising authors. The latter group would be very interested in Temple’s response to McNeish, and McNeish’s response to Temple, if they were allowed space – but perhaps practising authors are no longer what the organisation is about.

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