Eleanor Catton

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Eleanor Catton

A woman with shoulder-length brown hair standing in front of a neutral background, wearing a white top, green cardigan, and blue jeans. She holds her hands together behind her back.
Eleanor Catton in 2012
Born (1985-09-24) 24 September 1985 (age 34)
London, Ontario, Canada
NationalityNew Zealand
Notable worksThe Luminaries
Notable awards2013 Man Booker Prize

Eleanor Catton MNZM (born 24 September 1985) is a New Zealand novelist. Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

Early life[edit]

Catton was born in Canada where her American-born New Zealander father was a graduate student completing his doctorate at the University of Western Ontario. She grew up in Christchurch after her family returned to New Zealand when she was six years old; she spent a year living in Leeds where she attended Lawnswood School. She referred to this experience as "amazing, but a real eye opener" due to the toughness of the environment.[2][3] She attended Burnside High School, studied English at the University of Canterbury, and completed a Master's degree in Creative Writing at The Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.[4] She is related to author Bruce Catton.[5]


Catton's debut novel, The Rehearsal, was published in 2008. It was written as her Master's thesis,[6] and deals with reactions to an affair between a male teacher and a girl at his secondary school. That year, she was awarded a fellowship to the Iowa Writers' Workshop.[7]

In 2009 she was described by the British Daily Mail as "this year's golden girl of fiction".[8] In 2011, she was the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury.[9]


Catton's second novel, The Luminaries, was published in 2013. The novel is set on the goldfields of New Zealand in 1866. It was shortlisted for and subsequently won the 2013 Man Booker Prize making Catton, at the age of 28, the youngest author ever to win the Booker.[10][11] She was previously, at the age of 27, the youngest author ever to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.[10]

At 832 pages, The Luminaries is the longest work to win the prize in its 45-year history.[11] The chair of the judges, Robert Macfarlane commented "It's a dazzling work. It's a luminous work. It is vast without being sprawling." Catton was presented with the prize by the Duchess of Cornwall on 15 October 2013 at Guildhall.[11]

Catton at WORD Christchurch 2014 Gala opening

In November 2013 Catton was awarded the Canadian Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for The Luminaries.[12] In January 2014 it was announced that Catton would be awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature in May at Victoria University of Wellington,[13] where she has studied. In the 2014 New Year Honours, she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.[14][15]


During an interview at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January 2015, Catton said that the governments of Australia, Canada and New Zealand were led by "neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture... They care about short-term gains. They would destroy the planet in order to be able to have the life they want. I feel very angry with my Government".[16][17]

Prime Minister John Key said he was disappointed at Catton's lack of respect for his Government and claimed she was aligned with the Green Party. The next day he said her views should not be given any more credence than those of the Peter "The Mad Butcher" Leitch or Richie McCaw.[18]

In January 2015, on air RadioLive host Sean Plunket called Catton a traitor and an "ungrateful hua".[19] The Taxpayers' Union also released a media statement showing Catton had received around $50,000 in Creative New Zealand support over her career. Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers' Union argued that: "if Ms Catton isn't thankful for the support by the New Zealand Government while she wrote The Luminaries, maybe she should use some of the substantial royalties to pay the money back".[20]

In a blog post responding to the affair, Catton commented that her reported remarks were a condensed part of a larger interview, and she was puzzled why her comment at the Jaipur festival had generated such controversy: "I’ve been speaking freely to foreign journalists ever since I was first published overseas, and have criticised the Key government, neo-liberal values, and our culture of anti-intellectualism many times."[21] She continued:

In future interviews with foreign media, I will of course discuss the inflammatory, vicious, and patronising things that have been broadcast and published in New Zealand this week. I will of course discuss the frightening swiftness with which the powerful Right move to discredit and silence those who question them, and the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails. But I will hope for better, and demand it.[21]

The criticism of Catton caused a media storm, including the publication of numerous cartoons,[22] and was termed "Cattongate" by one commentator.[23] In an opinion piece, Bryce Edwards quoted numerous commentators who supported Catton's right to express her views. He said the controversy reflected the hollowness of public debate in New Zealand, and of the media and politics, and is increasingly of concern to some academics, researchers, and journalists. He also said that for some people, the saga also relates to the more recent Dirty Politics scandal.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Catton lives in Auckland with her husband, American/New Zealand author and poet Steven Toussaint, and teaches creative writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology.[24][25] They married in January 2016.[26]


In 2014 she used her winnings from the NZ Post Book Award to establish the Lancewood/Horoeka Grant. The grant offers a stipend to emerging writers with the aim of "the means and opportunity not to write, but to read, and to share what they learn through their reading with their colleagues in the arts".[27] Recipients have included Amy Brown, Craig Cliff and Richard Meros.

Awards and honours[edit]



  • Catton, Eleanor (2008). The Rehearsal. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press. ISBN 9783716026328.
  • Catton, Eleanor (2013). The Luminaries. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press. ISBN 9781847084316.

Short stories[edit]

  • Various short stories published in Best New Zealand Fiction Vol. 5 (2008); the Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories (2009), and Granta issue 106 (Summer 2009).

Further reading[edit]

Wolfe, Graham. “Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal: Theatrical Fantasy and the Gaze.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 49.3 (2016): 91–108.


  1. ^ "Eleanor Catton". Woman's Hour. 9 September 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. ^ Tivnan, Tom (15 October 2013). "Eleanor Catton Interview". The Bookseller. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  3. ^ Cochrane, Kira (7 September 2013). "Eleanor Catton: 'I'm strongly influenced by box-set TV drama. At last the novel has found its screen equivalent'". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  4. ^ "Victoria University to confer honorary doctorate on Eleanor Catton" (Press release). Wellington, N.Z.: Victoria University of Wellington. 28 January 2014. Ms Catton has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Victoria University, conferred with Distinction in 2008 and a Bachelor of Arts, conferred with First Class Honours in 2009.
  5. ^ Blackstock, Russell (14 September 2014). "Luminaries shine in Catton's family tree". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  6. ^ Clarkson, Annie (4 August 2009). "'I am still astonished and a little bit suspicious that The Rehearsal has even been published' – An Interview with Eleanor Catton | Bookmunch". Bookmunch. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  7. ^ McEvoy, Mark (14 September 2013). "Interview: Eleanor Catton". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  8. ^ McKay, Carla (21 July 2009). "Eleanor Catton: The Rehearsal". Daily Mail. DMG Media. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  9. ^ "Ursula Bethell Residency in Creative Writing". Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  10. ^ a b Morris, Linda (11 September 2013). "Eleanor Catton youngest author ever shortlisted for Booker". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  11. ^ a b c Masters, Tim (15 October 2013). "Man Booker Prize: Eleanor Catton becomes youngest winner with The Luminaries". BBC News. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  12. ^ Eleanor Catton honoured with Canadian literary award Archived 13 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine. 3 News NZ. 15 November 2013.
  13. ^ "Victoria University to confer honorary doctorate on Eleanor Catton". Victoria University of Wellington. 28 January 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  14. ^ "New Year honours list 2014". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  15. ^ "How Catton's life changed after Man Booker win". Stuff.co.nz. 18 March 2014.
  16. ^ Deborah Hill Cone: Catton success illuminated nation, New Zealand Herald, 2 February 2015
  17. ^ Paul Little: Key and Plunket prove Catton's point, New Zealand Herald, 1 February 2015
  18. ^ "Eleanor Catton has 'no particular great insights into politics', says John Key". NZ Herald. 1 February 2015. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  19. ^ "Catton a 'traitor', says Plunket". Otago Daily Times. 28 January 2015.
  20. ^ "Kiwis have been generous to Catton, says Taxpayers' Union". The New Zealand Herald. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  21. ^ a b Catton, Eleanor. "A Statement". eleanor-catton.com. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  22. ^ Cartoons & images of Cattongate, Bryce Edwards
  23. ^ a b Bryce Edwards: The politics of Eleanor Catton and public debate, New Zealand Herald, 3 February 2015
  24. ^ "Eleanor Catton's success is written in the stars". The Herald. Newsquest. 7 September 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  25. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (16 October 2013). "Eleanor Catton: 'Male writers get asked what they think, women what they feel'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  26. ^ Luminaries author marries long-time partner, NZ Herald, 3 January 2016
  27. ^ Flood, Alison (2 September 2014). "Eleanor Catton sets up grant to give writers 'time to read'". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  28. ^ "Adam Award Winners". Archived from the original on 22 October 2008. Retrieved 22 October 2008.
  29. ^ a b c "Contributor information from Granta magazine".
  30. ^ "Betty Trask Award Winners". Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2009.
  31. ^ "NZ Society of Authors Awards". Archived from the original on 17 August 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  32. ^ "Guardian first book award". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. 28 November 2009. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  33. ^ "Eleanor Catton on Orange Prize long list". Stuff.co.nz. NZPA. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  34. ^ [1] Amazon.ca: First Novel Award Books, April 2011
  35. ^ "Eleanor Catton wins Governor General’s Literary Award for The Luminaries". Toronto Star, November 13, 2013.
  36. ^ "Walter Scott Prize Shortlist 2014". Walter Scott Prize. 4 April 2014. Archived from the original on 15 April 2014. Retrieved 27 May 2014.

External links[edit]