‘Urgently Relevant’ Novel Wins Country’s Richest Literary Award

Dame Fiona Kidman has won this year’s $53,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for her novel, This Mortal Boy, a work described by the judges as ‘moving, memorable, authentic and urgently relevant to our times.’

The book published by Penguin Random House received the honour ahead of a strong line-up of finalists comprising Lloyd Jones (The Cage), Kate Duignan (The New Ships) and Vincent O’Sullivan (All This by Chance) at the Auckland Writers Festival marquee event held in the Aotea Centre this evening.

“In This Mortal Boy, Fiona Kidman has written an intensely human and empathetic story, recreating the events leading to the real life hanging of ’jukebox killer‘ Paddy Black at Mount Eden prison in 1955.

“With seeming effortlessness, she pulls the reader into mid-century New Zealand – the restlessness of a new urban youth culture, the moral panic that led to the Mazengarb report, the damning assumptions of the legal profession and the unchallenged omissions that eased the pathway to a young man’s death,” said this year’s fiction category judges.

New York Times best-selling author and academic Joanne Drayton won the Royal Society Te Ap?rangi Award for General Non-Fiction for Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love (Otago University Press).?

The category judges said Hudson & Halls is not simply the story of celebrity chefs: “It is a generous, multi-layered, and touching account of companionship and enduring love.

“Set against the backdrop of the double act many of us will remember, Hudson & Halls reveals the humour and drama of this couple’s onscreen chemistry, and is a deeply moving and often surprising account of their private life. Set within the context of significant social and political moments over four decades and three countries, Joanne Drayton’s fresh approach to storytelling makes this a must-read.”

Helen Heath won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her collection Are Friends Electric? (Victoria University Press).

“By turns thoughtful and moving, Are Friends Electric? asks how the material world might mediate—or replace—human relationships.

“Helen Heath’s collection impressed the judging panel with its broad thematic reach, its willingness to tackle complex issues, and its poetic risk-taking,” said the judges.

Senior curator Sean Mallon and French ethnologist Sébastien Galliot took the Illustrated Non-Fiction category for their work Tatau: A History of S?moan Tattooing (Te Papa Press). ?

The book which traces the art form from 3,000 years ago to the present day is described by judges as a visual feast.

“…quality design is met with innovative writing that both records and opens up new territory, creating a book that will expand and enrich the knowledge of readers throughout Aotearoa, the Moana Pacific and beyond. Tatau: A History of S?moan Tattooingcelebrates the tactile pleasure of a book in the hand, and should be acknowledged as a milestone in contemporary publishing.”

Te M?rau o te Tuhi, a discretionary M?ori Language Award, was presented this year for the landmark work He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo M?ori te Tatau ki te Ao by pioneering language and tikanga academics Sir T?moti K?retu and the late Dr Wharehuia Milroy published by Auckland University Press.

Te Reo M?ori judge Dr Ruakere Hond acknowledged the very recent passing of Dr Milroy in announcing the award. 

“He tai mutunga kore te ranga whai reo e ?ki kau ana ki te aroaro o te tokorua k?tuarehe, ng? ru?nuku o te reo o nehe, ki n?ianei rangi.  He wh?iti taua urunga, engari i konei ka wherawhera mai.  He maioha t?nei n? T?moti K?retu r?ua ko Te Wharehuia Milroy, kia hou mai te t?ura ki waenga p? i ? r?ua k?rerorero, he k?rero paki, he hokinga mahara o te ohinga, ?, pakeke noa.  He puanga rautangi ki te hauangi.  Kapohia e te tini.  He tatau e puare ana i t? r?ua ao.

“Staunch advocates of our spoken reo have relentlessly sought to sit down with these two most influential exponents of reo M?ori, from the past and for today.  Few have had the opportunity; this book now opens that door. T?moti K?retu and the late Wharehuia Milroy invite the reader into their conversations, their yarns and musings from decades of cultural experience.  This book’s value is undeniable.  Its language, accessible.  This is a doorway to their world,” said Dr Hond.

The General Non-Fiction, Poetry, Illustrated Non-Fiction category and M?ori Language Award winners each took home a $10,000 prize.

Four MitoQ Best First Book Awards were also presented at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

The Hubert Church Prize for a best first book of Fiction went to Kirsten Warner for The Sound of Breaking Glass (M?karo Press).

The E.H. McCormick Prize for a best first work of General Non-Fiction was presented to Chessie Henry for We Can Make a Life (Victoria University Press).

The Jessie Mackay Prize for a best first book of Poetry was awarded to Tayi Tibble for Po?kahangatus (Victoria University Press).

The Judith Binney Prize for a best first work of Illustrated Non-Fiction went to John Reid for Whatever It Takes: Pacific Films and John O’Shea 1948-2000 (Victoria University Press).

Each MitoQ Best First Book Award winner received $2500.

The 2019 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards judges were:

Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize: journalist, reviewer and editor Sally Blundell; author and programme director of WORD Christchurch Rachael King; novelist, short story writer and lecturer James George (Ng?puhi) and award-winning New York-based novelist Joseph O’Neill  who assisted the three New Zealand judges to select this year’s Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize winner. 

Royal Society Te Ap?rangi Award for General Non-Fiction: science writer Rebecca Priestley, Associate Professor at Victoria University of Wellington; award-winning historian and University of Otago academic Angela Wanhalla and curator, educator and writer Karl Chitham (Ng?puhi), new director of the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt.

Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry: creative writing teacher Airini Beautrais; Massey University Professor Bryan Walpert and Pasifika poet Karlo Mila who runs an indigenous leadership programme.

Illustrated Non-Fiction category: Well-known writer, curator and commentator on all aspects of architecture, design and art Douglas Lloyd Jenkins; curator at Dunedin Public Art Gallery Lucy Hammonds and experienced bookseller Bruce Caddy.

Award-winning writer Paula Morris of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, which governs the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, says in a highly competitive year of groundbreaking, compelling books, it is heartening to welcome two new sponsors.

“Peter and Mary Biggs, long-time arts supporters in New Zealand, are now sponsoring our poetry prize, and the innovators of MitoQ are backing our first book winners. Their commitment speaks to the vitality and mana of our writers, artists and publishers,” says Ms Morris.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by Ockham Residential, Creative New Zealand, the Acorn Foundation, the Royal Society Te Ap?rangi, Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM, MitoQ and the Auckland Writers Festival.

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