Literary heavyweights vie for top fiction prize in Ockham NZ Book Awards


 Booker Prize-winning author Eleanor Catton faces off against critically acclaimed former national award winners Emily Perkins, Pip Adam and Stephen Daisley for the $65,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, as finalists in the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards announced today.
The four novelists are joined by a further 12 acclaimed and debut finalist authors of memoir, poetry, history, art, and te ao Māori in one of the country’s strongest-ever years for book publishing.

The 16 finalists were selected from a longlist of 44 books by panels of specialist judges across four categories: fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction, and general non-fiction.

Catton, who won the Booker Prize in 2013 for The Luminaries, is a finalist for her novel Birnam Wood; Perkins, who won the Montana Medal for Fiction or Poetry in 2009 for Novel About My Wife is shortlisted with Lioness; Adam, who won the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize in 2018 for The New Animals is in the running with Audition; and Daisley, who won the first awarded Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize in 2016 for Coming Rain is a contender this year with A Better Place.

Juliet Blyth, convenor of judges for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, says there is much to celebrate amongst this year’s shortlisted novels, and readers will be rewarded by the richness contained within their pages.

“These four singular and accomplished titles encompass pertinent themes of social justice, violence, activism, capitalism, war, identity, class, and more besides. Variously confronting, hilarious, philosophical, and heart-rending, these impressive works showcase Aotearoa storytellers at the top of their game.”

Best-selling British author, writer, broadcaster and former Booker Prize judge Natalie Haynes will assist the three New Zealand judges in selecting the fiction winner.

The finalists in the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry include three debut authors: Megan Kitching (At the Point of Seeing), Grace Yee (Chinese Fish) and Isla Huia (Talia); and poet and map maker, Bill Nelson (Root Leaf Flower Fruit).

Erik Kennedy, convenor of judges for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry, says the four finalist collections are grounded in the experience of life in Aotearoa but through their restless, ambitious poetics are capable of taking readers almost anywhere.

“These volumes blur genres and disrupt preconceptions of poetic form, they re-vision landscapes and histories, and they deploy languages other than English in distinct ways that encourage multiplicity,” he says.

The finalists in the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction are multi-award-winning art historian, poet and painter Gregory O’Brien MNZM (Don Binney: Flight Path); co-author curators Lauren Gutsell, Lucy Hammonds, Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi) (Marilynn Webb: Folded in the Hills); debut author and fungi and forager enthusiast Liv Sisson (Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide); and historian and first-time author Ryan Bodman (Rugby League in New Zealand: A People’s History).

Lynn Freeman, convenor of judges for the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction, says our past, present and future live within the four gloriously illustrated finalist books, in which words and images sit in perfect harmony.

“This has been the year of the art book, lavishly illustrated, lovingly researched and written, insightful, profound and beautiful­ artworks in their own right. Here, too, are under-appreciated (until now) stories that provide invaluable contributions to our understanding of what it means to be a New Zealander,” she says.

The General Non-Fiction finalists are Auckland University of Technology Vice Chancellor, interdisciplinary scholar and award-winning author Damon Salesa (An Indigenous Ocean: Pacific Essays); celebrated novelist and memoirist Barbara Else (Laughing at the Dark: A Memoir); non-fiction author Jeff Evans (Ngātokimatawhaorua: The Biography of a Waka); and debut author, physician and memoirist Emma Espiner (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou) (There’s a Cure for This).

Jim Tully ONZM, convenor of judges for the General Non-Fiction Award, says this year’s entries treated judges to a wide array of narratives – rich life stories; biographies of birds, sea life and waka; and deep investigations into Kaupapa, from communes to ora (wellbeing).

“The judges came to the unanimous decision that the final four represent the best of the best – accessible yet robust academic inquiries; novel and unheard stories; and narratives that warm, sadden and unsettle all within the same cover,” he says.

Nicola Legat, spokesperson for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa, says that this year’s shortlist holds worlds of riches for all readers.

“There is a dazzling variety of outstanding writing including powerful personal stories, punchy and revealing poetry, and fresh reflections on contemporary issues. The fiction shortlist is one of the strongest in the award’s history. It’s remarkable that all four finalists are previous winners. In every category, each finalist title is ambitious in scope and offers vivid reflections on Aotearoa’s past, present and future.” Each finalist title is ambitious in scope and offers vivid reflections on Aotearoa’s past, present, and future.

“In these finalist books we can also see publishers at the tops of their games. There are 11 publishers shortlisted across 16 titles. What a knockout year,” she says.

The 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlisted titles are:

*represents debut authors


Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction

A Better Place by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing)

Audition by Pip Adam (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Lioness by Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury)


Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry

At the Point of Seeing by Megan Kitching (Otago University Press) *

Chinese Fish by Grace Yee (Giramondo Publishing) *

Root Leaf Flower Fruit by Bill Nelson (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Talia by Isla Huia (Te Āti Haunui a-Pāpārangi, Uenuku) (Dead Bird Books) *


Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction

Don Binney: Flight Path by Gregory O’Brien (Auckland University Press)

Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide by Liv Sisson (Penguin, Penguin Random House)*

Marilynn Webb: Folded in the Hills by Lauren Gutsell, Lucy Hammonds, Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi) (Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

Rugby League in New Zealand: A People’s History by Ryan Bodman (Bridget Williams Books)*


General Non-Fiction Award

An Indigenous Ocean: Pacific Essays by Damon Salesa (Bridget Williams Books)

Laughing at the Dark: A Memoir by Barbara Else (Penguin, Penguin Random House)

Ngātokimatawhaorua: The Biography of a Waka by Jeff Evans (Massey University Press)

There’s a Cure for This by Emma Espiner (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou) (Penguin, Penguin Random House) *


The 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards’ winners, including the four Mātātuhi Foundation Best First Book Awards recipients, will be announced at a public ceremony on 15 May during the 2024 Auckland Writers Festival.

The winner of the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction will receive $65,000 and each of the three other main category winners will receive $12,000. Each of the Best First Book winners, for fiction, poetry, general non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction, will be awarded $3000.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by Ockham Residential, Creative New Zealand, the late Jann Medlicott and the Acorn Foundation, Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand, the Mātātuhi Foundation, and the Auckland Writers Festival.

To find out more about the shortlisted titles go to


Editor’s Notes:

This year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards judges are: reading advocate and former bookseller Juliet Blyth (convenor); writer, reviewer and literary festival curator Kiran Dass; and fiction writer Anthony Lapwood (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Whakaue, Pākehā) (Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction); poet, critic and editor Erik Kennedy (convenor); poet and performance writer Tru Paraha (Ngāti Hineāmaru, Te Kahu o Torongare ki Waiomio, Ngāti Te Tarawa); and author, editor and university lecturer Dougal McNeill (Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry); former radio broadcaster and book reviewer Lynn Freeman (convenor); arts advocate and former festival director Marianne Hargreaves; and artist, curator and writer Ane Tonga (Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction); journalist and academic Jim Tully ONZM (convenor), writer, editor, broadcaster and literary festival curator Kerry Sunderland; and academic, researcher and author Rebecca Kiddle (Ngāti Porou, Ngā Puhi) (General Non-Fiction Award).

International Fiction judge Natalie Haynes is a best-selling British author, broadcaster, and writer and performer of BBC Radio 4’s Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics. She has been a judge for both the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction, and her recent novels include A Thousand Ships, about the women of Troy, and Stone Blind, a retelling of Medusa’s story.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are the country’s premier literary honours for books written by New Zealanders. First established in 1968 as the Wattie Book Awards (later the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards), they have also been known as the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the New Zealand Post Book Awards. Awards are given for Fiction (the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction), Poetry (the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry) Illustrated Non-Fiction (the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction) and General Non-Fiction. There are also four Best First Book Awards for first-time authors (The Mātātuhi Foundation Best First Book Awards) and, at the judges’ discretion, Te Mūrau o te Tuhi, a Māori Language Award. The awards are governed by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa (a registered charity). Current members of the Trust are Nicola Legat, Rachael King, Richard Pamatatau, Garth Biggs, Renée Rowland, Laura Caygill, Suzy Maddox and Melinda Szymanik. The Trust also governs the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day.

Ockham Residential is Auckland’s most thoughtful developer. Through creating elegant and enduring buildings that are well-loved by those who make them home, Ockham hopes to enhance Auckland – and to contribute to its many communities. Founded in 2009 by Mark Todd and Benjamin Preston, Ockham supports a number of organisations in arts, science and education. These include the Ockham Collective, their creative and educational charity, the acclaimed BWB Texts series, the People’s Choice Award in New Zealand Geographic’s Photographer of the Year Award, and Ponsonby’s Objectspace gallery. But its principal sponsorship of the New Zealand Book Awards, a relationship now in its ninth year, is perhaps Ockham’s most visible contribution. Says Mark Todd: “Our communities would be drab, grey and much poorer places without art, without words, without science – without critical thought. That’s why our partnership with the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards means the world to us.”

Creative New Zealand has been a sustaining partner of New Zealand’s book awards for decades. The national arts development agency of the New Zealand government encourages, promotes and supports the arts in New Zealand for the benefit of all New Zealanders through funding, capability building, an international programme, and advocacy. Creative New Zealand provides a wide range of support to New Zealand literature, including funding for writers and publishers, residencies, literary festivals and awards, and supports organisations which work to increase the readership and sales of New Zealand literature at home and internationally.

Acorn Foundation is a community foundation based in the Western Bay of Plenty, which celebrated its 20th birthday in 2023. Acorn encourages people to establish an endowment fund to support the local community forever. Donations are pooled and invested, and the investment income is used to make annual donations to local charities, in accordance with the donors’ wishes, while the capital remains intact. Acorn has now distributed over $16.5 million to causes important to their donors. Community foundations are the fastest growing form of philanthropy worldwide, and there are now 17 located across this country, with more than 85% of New Zealanders able to access a local foundation. The Prize for Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards has been provided through the generosity of one of Acorn’s donors, the late Jann Medlicott, and will be awarded to the top fiction work each year, in perpetuity.

Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM are long-time arts advocates and patrons – particularly of literature, theatre and music.  They have funded the Biggs Family Prize in Poetry at Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters since 2006, along with the Alex Scobie Research Prize in Classical Studies.  They have been consistent supporters of the International Festival the of the Arts, the Auckland Writers Festival, Wellington’s Circa Theatre, the New Zealand Arts Foundation, Featherston Booktown, Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Featherston Sculpture Trust and the Wairarapa’s Kokomai Arts Festival.  Peter was Chair of Creative New Zealand from 1999 to 2006.  He led the Cultural Philanthropy Taskforce in 2010 and the New Zealand Professional Orchestra Sector Review in 2012.  Peter is Chief Executive of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.  He was appointed a Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit for arts governance and philanthropy in 2013.  Mary is the Operations Manager for Featherston Booktown Karukatea.  She has driven the Festival’s success and growth, and it is now regarded as one of the leading cultural events in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Founded in 1921, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand is the membership association for bookshops in New Zealand. This national not-for-profit trade organisation works to help independently owned and chain bookstores to grow and succeed. Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand provides education, information, business products, and services; creates relevant programmes; and engages in public policy and industry advocacy. The association is governed by a volunteer board of booksellers.

The Mātātuhi Foundation was established by the Auckland Writers Festival to support the growth and development of New Zealand’s literary landscape. To achieve this goal, the Foundation holds a biannual grants round; inviting submissions from projects that support and promote the work of New Zealand writers and/or materially increase the levels of engagement and appreciation for New Zealand literature among New Zealand readers.

For 24 years, the Auckland Writers Festival | Waituhi o Tāmaki has been a champion of thought leadership, literary engagement and community building. It is New Zealand’s premier celebration of books and ideas, with a record annual attendance of 83,000. The Festival offers a six-day programme of discussions, conversations, readings, debates and performances – including free and family events – with over 200 of the world’s best writers and thinkers from Aotearoa and overseas. This year’s Festival takes place from 14 – 19 May 2024.

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