Update: NZ Herald is reporting that Ihimaera will be buying back remaining stock of The Trowenna Sea and Penguin will be taking returns from any seller wishing to do so. And they will be issuing a new edition in the new year with full acknowledgements. This is a good turn of events.
The plagiarism row around Witi Ihimaera is continuing, further stoked by his being awarded a $50,000 laureate award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand. I don’t deny he has a significant body of work that puts him in the position of being one of New Zealand’s foremost writers, and would certainly be worthy of recognition.
But. But. But. And there is a significant “but” in this story. It bothers me that there has been little open and honest explanation of what the heck has gone on here. The fact that Ihimaera is one of New Zealand’s foremost writers and is employed as one of the foremost academics in the field of literature in this country makes this hugely troubling. The apology given, both to the general public and to the authors whose work has been used unattributed, was, and is, necessary and right – but how did this happen?
How did a long-term profession writer and academic get to this point? How did a well-respected editorial team allow the writer and his work to get to this point? How does a University employing this professional academic as a teacher of students (teaching and enforcing attribution rules and avoidance of plagiarism) meekly state they are “satisfied there was no deliberate wrongdoing.”? Well then, what exactly went on? Was this a memory failure, an “I didn’t get away with it” failure, a printing failure? *
And, what about the reading public? Smooth it over, defend unto death and go quietly. It would be nice to be treated like adults and given something more than bland statements and defensive answers that imply that it’s none of our business. This isn’t a personal failure, this is a professional failure in a profession that is about public work, and as such the “you don’t deserve an explanation” attitude just doesn’t cut it.
Those sorts of responses have only added to the initial drop in respect for those involved. Sadly.
* Yes, isn’t it a lot of questions?