The Herald editorial says:
The Arts Foundation of New Zealand has created an embarrassment with one of its five “laureate” awards last night. Doubtless the decision to make one of the $50,000 awards to writer Witi Ihimaera was made long before his latest novel was found to include at least 16 unattributed passages that appear to be substantially the work of others.
Doubtless, too, the selection panel operates at arm’s length from the foundation set up to assist and promote cultural achievement of the highest quality in this country. But in the week since a reviewer’s concerns were reported by the New Zealand Listener, somebody at the foundation should have intervened.
It is incredible they did not. Timing is everything.
Inevitably his earlier work will be examined for similar lapses. If none comes to light, and the integrity of his future writing is beyond reproach, this episode may be regarded as aberrant. But not yet. This is not the moment for him to be hailed as a leading exponent of his art.
It strains belief that the Arts Foundation thinks it is. Ihimaera did not ask for its honour; recipients of Arts Foundation laureates are chosen by an appointed panel and notified of their good fortune. A $50,000 embarrassment would be hard to refuse.
Those who put him in this position have questions to answer. The selection panel consisted of Elizabeth Ellis, Jenny Harper, Derek Lardelli and two writers, Bill Manhire and Grant Smithies. Did they read the book? Did they miss the stylistic oddities that alerted the Listener’s Jolisa Gracewood? Do they think her revelations unimportant?
And think of the message it sends to every aspiring author – plagiarism is fine if you mix in the right circles.