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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
BornEleanor Frances Catton
1985 (age 38–39)
London, Ontario, Canada
NationalityNew Zealand
EducationUniversity of Canterbury (BA)
Victoria University of Wellington (BA Hons, MA)
University of Iowa (MFA)
Notable worksThe Luminaries
Notable awards2013 Booker Prize

Eleanor Catton MNZM (born 1985) is a New Zealand novelist and screenwriter. Born in Canada, Catton moved to New Zealand as a child and grew up in Christchurch. She completed a master's degree in creative writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her award-winning debut novel, The Rehearsal, written as her Master's thesis, was published in 2008, and has been adapted into a 2016 film of the same name. Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Booker Prize, making Catton the youngest author ever to win the prize (at age 28) and only the second New Zealander. It was subsequently adapted into a television miniseries, with Catton as screenwriter. In 2023, she was named on the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list.

Early life


Catton was born in Canada in 1985,[2] where her father was a graduate student completing his doctorate at the University of Western Ontario on a Commonwealth scholarship.[3] Her mother Judith is a New Zealander from Canterbury, while her father, philosopher Philip Catton, comes from Washington State.[4] Her family returned to New Zealand when she was six years old, and Catton grew up in Christchurch. Her mother was a children's librarian at the time, and the family had no TV; Catton was an avid reader and writer from an early age.[5]

When she was aged 13 the family spent a year living in Leeds while her father was on a sabbatical at the university, and Catton attended local comprehensive Lawnswood School which she referred to as "amazing" and "gloriously rough".[6][3][5] Back in Christchurch she attended Burnside High School, studied English at the University of Canterbury, and completed a Master's degree in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.[7] She is related to historian Bruce Catton.[4]

Literary career


The Rehearsal


Catton's debut novel, The Rehearsal, was published in 2008 when she was 22. Written as her Master's thesis,[8] it deals with reactions to an affair between a male teacher and a girl at his secondary school. The Rehearsal won the 2009 Betty Trask Award in the UK, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize and on the shortlist of the Guardian First Book Award.[3]

That year Catton was awarded a fellowship to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she completed her MFA and taught creative writing until 2011.[9] In 2011, she was the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury,[10] and in 2012 a writer in residence at the Michael King Writers Centre in Auckland.[3]

In 2016, The Rehearsal was adapted into a film of the same name directed by Alison Maclean. It was screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.[11][12]

The Luminaries

Catton at the Booker Prize ceremony in Guildhall, London, just before it was announced she had won the 2013 prize for The Luminaries.

Catton's second novel The Luminaries was begun at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, when she was 25, and published in 2013. The novel is set on the goldfields of New Zealand in 1866. It was shortlisted for and subsequently won the 2013 Booker Prize, making Catton at the age of 28 the youngest author ever to win the Booker, beating more established names like Jhumpa Lahiri and Colm Tóibín.[13][14] Catton was previously, at the age of 27, the youngest author ever to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.[13][15]

At 832 pages, The Luminaries was the longest work to win the prize in its 45-year history.[14] The chair of the judges, Robert Macfarlane commented, "It's a dazzling work. It's a luminous work. It is vast without being sprawling." Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles said: "I'm confident that she is destined to be one of the most important and influential writers of her generation."[14] Catton was presented with the prize by the Duchess of Cornwall on 15 October 2013 at Guildhall.[14]

In November 2013 Catton was awarded the Canadian Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for The Luminaries.[16] 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,[17] 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.[18][19]



Catton made zombie movies with her friends as a teenager and participated in the 48Hours film challenge, but never studied screenwriting.[20]

When Luminaries was adapted into a television miniseries Catton was screenwriter, an "unusual if not entirely unheard-of" arrangement.[21][22] Catton wrote hundreds of drafts of the pilot episode, but in late 2015 BBC Two declined the series; she then shifted the focus to make the protagonist Anna Wetherell, a minor character in the book, and rewrote the series, which was commissioned by the BBC in mid-2016.[21] She served as showrunner with director Claire McCarthy during filming.[20] The six-episode TVNZ and BBC series debuted on 17 May 2020.[23]

Catton also wrote the screenplay for the 2020 film version of Emma, adapted from Jane Austen's novel.[24] She admitted she had never actually read the novel when approached to write the screenplay, but was familiar with more recent adaptations, including the film Clueless.[24]

Birnam Wood


Catton's third novel, Birnam Wood, was published in February 2023. The title is taken from Macbeth, and Catton has said the novel draws inspiration from the play.[25] It is a contemporary thriller about a group of young climate activists who call themselves Birnam Wood.[26]

The novel was shortlisted for the 2023 Giller Prize.[27][28] The New York Times named it one of the 100 Notable Books of 2023.[29]


Catton at WORD Christchurch 2014 Gala opening

In 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".[30][31]

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.[32]

In January 2015, on air RadioLive host Sean Plunket called Catton a traitor and an "ungrateful hua", a Māori slang word which some listeners mistook for "whore".[32][33] The Taxpayers' Union also released a media statement showing Catton had received around $50,000 in Creative New Zealand support over her career, and 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".[34]

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."[35] 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.[35]

The criticism of Catton caused a media storm, including the publication of numerous cartoons, and was termed "Cattongate" by political commentator Bryce Edwards.[36][37] Edwards quoted numerous other commentators who supported Catton's right to express her views, and said the controversy reflected the hollowness of public debate in New Zealand and of the media and politics.[37]

Personal life


Catton met Chicago-born poet Steven Toussaint at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Toussaint moved to New Zealand in 2011 to begin a PhD in US avant-garde poetry at Victoria University of Wellington.[6][38] The couple later lived in Mount Eden with their two cats (Laura Palmer and Isis) while Catton taught creative writing part-time at the Manukau Institute of Technology.[6][19] Catton describes Toussaint as the first reader of her drafts, and he prevailed in an argument over whether one character in The Luminaries should be killed off.[38] They married on 3 January 2016.[38][39][40][41] As of 2023 the couple live in Cambridge, England with their daughter.[26]



In 2014 Catton used her winnings from the New Zealand Post Book Awards to establish the Lancewood/Horoeka Grant. The grant offers a stipend to emerging writers with the aim of providing "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".[42] Recipients have included Amy Brown, Craig Cliff and Richard Meros.

Awards and honours





  • 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.
  • Catton, Eleanor (2023). Birnam Wood. London, United Kingdom: Granta Books. ISBN 9781783789696.[57]
  • Doubtful Sound (TBC)

Short stories

  • 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).


  • Emma. (2020). Directed by Autumn de Wilde.

Further reading



  1. ^ "Eleanor Catton". Woman's Hour. 9 September 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. ^ "Catton, Eleanor". Read NZ Te Pou Muramura. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d Tivnan, Tom (15 October 2013). "Eleanor Catton Interview". The Bookseller. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  4. ^ a b Blackstock, Russell (14 September 2014). "Luminaries shine in Catton's family tree". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ a b c Christie, Janet (6 April 2014). "Eleanor Catton on winning the Man Booker prize". The Scotsman. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ McEvoy, Mark (14 September 2013). "Interview: Eleanor Catton". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  10. ^ "Ursula Bethell Residency in Creative Writing". Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  11. ^ "The Rehearsal [programme note]". TIFF. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Toronto unveils City To City, World Cinema, Masters line-ups". ScreenDaily. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  13. ^ a b Morris, Linda (11 September 2013). "Eleanor Catton youngest author ever shortlisted for Booker". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  14. ^ a b c d Masters, Tim (15 October 2013). "Man Booker Prize: Eleanor Catton becomes youngest winner with The Luminaries". BBC News. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  15. ^ "Eleanor Catton interview: Money doesn't transform you – only love can". www.telegraph.co.uk. 17 October 2013. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  16. ^ Eleanor Catton honoured with Canadian literary award Archived 13 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine. 3 News NZ. 15 November 2013.
  17. ^ "Victoria University to confer honorary doctorate on Eleanor Catton". Victoria University of Wellington. 28 January 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  18. ^ "New Year honours list 2014". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  19. ^ a b "How Catton's life changed after Man Booker win". Stuff. 18 March 2014.
  20. ^ a b Bennett, Tara (12 February 2021). "Eleanor Catton, rare author-turned-showrunner, remixes zodiac-fueled 'The Luminaries' into a new kind of epic". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  21. ^ a b Blake, Meredith (11 February 2021). "How do you adapt an 800-page novel? 7 years. 300 drafts. Plenty of crying". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  22. ^ "First-look image of Eva Green in BBC Two's The Luminaries". BBC Two. 21 March 2019. Archived from the original on 9 May 2020. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries hits TV screens this Sunday". 1 News. 13 May 2020. Archived from the original on 24 May 2020. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  24. ^ a b Martinelli, Marissa (20 February 2020). "How the New Emma Movie Departs From Jane Austen's Novel". Slate. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  25. ^ McDougall, Kirsten (10 February 2023). "Eleanor Catton on new novel Birnam Wood, Booker fallout, good, evil and the 'poison' on social media". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  26. ^ a b Allardice, Lisa (18 February 2023). "Eleanor Catton: 'I felt so much doubt after winning the Booker'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  27. ^ "5 Canadian authors shortlisted for $100K Scotiabank Giller Prize". CBC Books. 11 October 2023. Retrieved 11 October 2023.
  28. ^ "12 Canadian books make longlist for $100K Scotiabank Giller Prize". CBC Books. 6 September 2023. Retrieved 6 September 2023.
  29. ^ Staff, The New York Times Books (21 November 2023). "100 Notable Books of 2023". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  30. ^ Hill-Cone, Deborah (2 February 2015). "Deborah Hill Cone: Catton success illuminated nation". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  31. ^ Little, Paul (1 February 2015). "Paul Little: Key and Plunket prove Catton's point". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  32. ^ a b "Eleanor Catton has 'no particular great insights into politics', says John Key". The New Zealand Herald. 1 February 2015. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  33. ^ Tan, Lincoln (28 January 2015). "Author Eleanor Catton throws the book at NZ; labelled 'traitor' by RadioLive host Sean Plunket". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  34. ^ "Kiwis have been generous to Catton, says Taxpayers' Union". The New Zealand Herald. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  35. ^ a b Catton, Eleanor. "A Statement". eleanor-catton.com. Archived from the original on 28 May 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  36. ^ Edwards, Bryce (30 January 2015). "Cartoons & images of Cattongate". Liberation. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  37. ^ a b Edwards, Bryce (3 February 2015). "Bryce Edwards: The politics of Eleanor Catton and public debate". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  38. ^ a b c "Luminaries author marries long-time partner". The New Zealand Herald. 3 January 2016.
  39. ^ "Eleanor Catton's success is written in the stars". The Herald. Newsquest. 7 September 2013. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  40. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (16 October 2013). "Eleanor Catton: 'Male writers get asked what they think, women what they feel'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  41. ^ Surynt, Laura (6 June 2020). "Bad bitch energy: An essay on Eleanor Catton, Edward Cullen and Covid-19". The Spinoff. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  42. ^ Flood, Alison (2 September 2014). "Eleanor Catton sets up grant to give writers 'time to read'". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  43. ^ "Adam Award Winners". Archived from the original on 22 October 2008. Retrieved 22 October 2008.
  44. ^ a b c "Contributor information from Granta magazine".
  45. ^ "Betty Trask Award Winners". Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2009.
  46. ^ "NZ Society of Authors Awards". Archived from the original on 17 August 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  47. ^ "Guardian first book award". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. 28 November 2009. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  48. ^ "Eleanor Catton on Orange Prize long list". Stuff.co.nz. NZPA. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  49. ^ Medley, Mark (29 April 2011). "Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal wins Amazon.ca First Novel Award". National Post. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  50. ^ "Eleanor Catton wins Governor General’s Literary Award for The Luminaries". Toronto Star, 13 November 2013.
  51. ^ "Past Winners: 2014". New Zealand Book Awards Trust. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  52. ^ "Walter Scott Prize Shortlist 2014". Walter Scott Prize. 4 April 2014. Archived from the original on 15 April 2014. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  53. ^ Razzall, Katie (13 April 2023). "Granta: Eleanor Catton and Saba Sams make Best of Young British Novelists list". BBC News.
  54. ^ Schaub, Michael (13 April 2023). "'Granta' Names 20 Best Young British Novelists". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  55. ^ "ANZ authors among 2024 Dublin Literary Award longlistees". Books+Publishing. 19 January 2024. Retrieved 27 January 2024.
  56. ^ "Ockham 2024 shortlists announced". Books+Publishing. 6 March 2024. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  57. ^ Review: Ley, James (10 March 2023). "Booker winner's new thriller has a sociopathic Bond villain in the bush". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 March 2023.