Thursday, November 19, 2009

Give the money back, Witi

As a writer of fiction (one published novel), poetry and
non-fiction (one published biography, hundreds of
magazine articles and columns), I cannot conceive of a
situation in which I would knowingly publish passages
of other people's work as if they were my own. I simply
cannot. The writer knows what's his and what isn't. All
of us writers appropriate other people's phrases and
ideas but we either acknowledge the source or cloak it
by paraphrase. Nothing Witi Ihimaera has said since
the plagiarism in his latest novel was revealed has
adequately explained how he came to do what he did.
And I agree with people like Karl Stead and John
Reynolds that it's not a trivial offence, nor one that can
somehow be magicked away by post-modern musings
along the lines that 'nothing is original' and 'everyone
does it' and 'most of that stuff was out of copyright
anyway.' The fact is, he practised a deception on his
readers. For that reason alone, the Arts Foundation's
decision to go ahead and give him an award of $50,000
at this time is a colossal misjudgment that discredits
New Zealand literature, undermines the integrity of the
awards and makes a mockery of the standards to which
university students are supposed to aspire. The best
thing Witi could do now, not least for his own reputation,
is give the money back.

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