A shot at literary fame: 2024 Sargeson Prize opens 

Entries for New Zealand’s richest short-story competition, the Sargeson Prize, are open and last year’s winner is encouraging others to “go for it”.


Fiction and poetry writer Anna Woods won $10,000 in the 2023 Open Division and a two-week summer writing residency at the Sargeson Centre in Auckland with her story ‘Pig Hunting’.

“The residency was instrumental in finishing my book, Tomahawk Beach, which I’ve been working on since 2022,” Anna says.

“At the end of a project, most of the research is complete, and it’s the time to focus on copy editing and line editing. It’s very focused, so having a space to go to free from the usual
interruptions and distractions was a real gift.”

The Sargeson Centre was filled with photos and books of previous winners, including 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, she says.

Anna says the validation she received from last year’s judge, Vincent O’Sullivan, was encouraging to her as a writer.

“It’s very easy to lose faith as a writer. I’ve been writing seriously for 10 years, it’s slow going, so this was just another marker that I was on the right journey.

“Having your work judged by guest judges allows a different slant every year – just because it wasn’t for the judges last time, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be this time,” says Anna, who has entered every year since the competition began in 2019.

This year’s Chief Judge is Harriet Allan, who has worked at Penguin Random House and its earlier iterations for nearly 35 years. She will be judging blind, meaning she will not know who has written each story.

“A good short story is like Dr Who’s tardis: a small police box on the outside, but, when you enter, it is enormous with multiple rooms. And, what’s more, it can take you anywhere in time and place,” Harriet says.

“In the introduction to The Penguin New Zealand Anthology published last year, I wrote, ‘It is commonly remarked that, among the numerous elements writers are expected to pack into their short stories (or novels for that matter), they should show character development in their main protagonist(s). In this case I would go in the opposite direction and add another stipulation: that the story should also leave its readers in a different place from where they started’.”

Harriet is currently working as a freelance editor, mentor and manuscript assessor, and was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit for services to publishing in 2024.

Established by University of Waikato Associate Professor Catherine Chidgey, the Sargeson Prize is named for celebrated New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson and is sponsored by the University of Waikato.

“I’m thrilled to have Harriet judging. She is the publisher of many award-winning books, has worked with some of New Zealand’s most decorated writers, and brings decades of experience as one of Aotearoa’s leading editors of fiction,” Catherine says.

“I can’t wait to see the entries from both new and established voices flood in.”

Entries for the 2024 competition close on 30 June.

Last year there were over 830 entries in the Open Division and 230 in the Secondary Schools Division.

The first-prize winner in the Secondary Schools Division will receive $2000 and a one-week summer writing residency at the University of Waikato, including accommodation, meals and mentoring. Winning stories in both categories will be published online on ReadingRoom.

Find out more information about criteria on the Sargeson Prize website.

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