Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2023 Winners’ Announcement


 Novel that New Zealanders have ‘clasped to their hearts’ wins country’s richest writing prize.

Celebrated New Zealand writer Catherine Chidgey has won the $64,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for The Axeman’s Carnival – a page-turning novel of depth, pathos and humanity that skilfully infuses comedy with a building sense of menace, narrated by a precocious magpie called Tama.

Ms Chidgey received the fiction prize ahead of screenwriter and author Michael Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) (Better the Blood); historian and novelist Monty Soutar (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, Ngāti Kahungunu) (Kāwai: For Such a Time as This); and sailor and novelist Cristina Sanders (Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant).

It is the second time Catherine Chidgey has won the big-ticket fiction prize offered since 2016 thanks to the late Jann Medlicott – the first writer to do so. She won the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize in 2017 for The Wish Child. Both books are published by Te Herenga Waka University Press.

The Fiction category’s convenor of judges, Stephanie Johnson, says The Axeman’s Carnival is a novel that has been clasped to New Zealanders’ hearts.

“The unforgettable Tama – taken in and raised by Marnie on the Te Waipounamu high country farm she shares with champion axeman husband Rob – constantly entertains with his take on the foibles and dramas of his human companions. Catherine Chidgey’s writing is masterful, and the underlying sense of dread as the story unfolds is shot through with humour and humanity.

The Axeman’s Carnival is unique: poetic, profound and a powerfully compelling read from start to finish.”

Scholar, poet and irredentist Alice Te Punga Somerville (Te Āti Awa, Taranaki) has won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for Always Italicise: How to Write While Colonised (Auckland University Press).

Poetry category convenor Diane Brown says Ms Te Punga Somerville’s collection voyages out like a waka seeking new ground.

“Readers are challenged but crucially invited in to accept that challenge and reach a new understanding of what it is to be a Māori woman scholar, mother and wife in 2022 encountering and navigating uncomfortable and hostile spaces.

Always Italicise stood out amongst a very strong field for its finely crafted, poetically fluent and witty explorations of racism, colonisation, class, language and relationships. It’s a fine collection, establishing and marking a new place to stand.”

Broadcaster, music critic and author Nick Bollinger has won the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction for Jumping Sundays: The Rise and Fall of the Counterculture in Aotearoa New Zealand (Auckland University Press). 

Category convenor Jared Davidson says Jumping Sundays is a triumph of production and design.

“The cover alone is one of the best of the year and signals the visual excellence that follows: vibrant endpapers, distinctive typography and bountiful images on an appropriately uncoated stock. Yet Jumping Sundays is more than just a well-designed book. Drawing on archival research and rich personal narratives, Nick Bollinger has written a compelling account of an epoch-making period, linking international trends to the local context in a purposeful-yet-playful way.

“A joy to read and to hold, Jumping Sundays is a fantastic example of scholarship, creativity and craft.”

Historian and lawyer Ned Fletcher has won the General Non-Fiction Award for his work, The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi (Bridget Williams Books).

Category convenor of judges Anna Rawhiti-O’Connell says Fletcher’s book is a meticulously constructed work of scholarship that provides surprising and essential analysis of Te Tiriti.

The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi will shift and inform debates about the intentions of those who constructed and signed the Treaty and how we interpret it today. Fletcher’s comprehensive examination sheds new light on the document’s implications and contributes fresh thinking to what remains a very live conversation for all of us that call this country home.”

The Poetry, Illustrated Non-Fiction and General Non-Fiction category award winners each took home a $12,000 prize.

Four Best First Book Awards, supported this year by the Mātātuhi Foundation, were also presented at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards ceremony.

Hubert Church Prize for Fiction

Home Theatre by Anthony Lapwood (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Whakaue, Pākehā) (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Jessie Mackay Prize for Poetry

We’re All Made of Lightning by Khadro Mohamed (We Are Babies Press, Tender Press)

Judith Binney Prize for Illustrated Non-Fiction

Kai: Food Stories and Recipes from my Family Table by Christall Lowe (Ngāti Kauwhata, Tainui, Ngāti Maniapoto) (Bateman Books)

E.H. McCormick for General Non-Fiction

Grand: Becoming my Mother’s Daughter by Noelle McCarthy (Penguin, Penguin Random House)

Each Best First Book Award winner received $3,000 and a 12-month membership subscription to the New Zealand Society of Authors.

New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa spokesperson Jenna Todd (Kāi Tahu) says this year’s winners are a demonstration of the quality and virtuosity of Aotearoa writers today.

“It’s a joy to celebrate these innovative, thought-provoking, conversation-starting books across fiction, poetry, general non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction; each of them singing and fizzing and demanding to be read.

“These titles of excellence are a tribute to the broad range of publishers who produced them, from the boutique to the established and multinational. Publishers are the power houses behind these books and also deserve the recognition.”


The 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards’ judges were:

Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction:  bestselling author, critic and creative writing teacher Stephanie Johnson (convenor); editor and literature assessor John Huria (Ngāi Tahu, Muaūpoko, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Ngāti Rangi); Wellington bookseller Jemma Morrison; and British writer, publisher and host of the books podcast Backlisted, John Mitchinson (UK).

Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry: Dunedin poet, author and creative writing tutor Diane Brown (convenor); poet and kaiako Serie Barford; and Wellington poet and Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellow Gregory Kan.

Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction: award-winning writer, historian and archivist Jared Davidson (convenor); writer and curator Dr Anna-Marie White (Te Ātiawa); and veteran television producer Taualeo’o Stephen Stehlin MNZM.

General Non-Fiction Award: writer and award-winning columnist Anna Rawhiti-Connell (convenor); prize-winning author, academic and researcher Alison Jones; and historian Professor Te Maire Tau (Ūpoko of Ngāi Tūāhuriri, a hapu of Ngāi Tahu).

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by Ockham Residential, Creative New Zealand, Jann Medlicott and the Acorn Foundation, Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand, the Mātātuhi Foundation, and the Auckland Writers Festival, which hosts the awards ceremony as a marquee event in its annual programme.

To find out more about the winners’ books go to http://www.nzbookawards.nz/new-zealand-book-awards/2023-awards/winners/


Download winners’ book covers here

Download winning authors’ images here

Editor’s Notes:

In order to support the generosity of the funders associated with these awards, please use the full and correct names for each category prize, as shown in the copy above and below, and for the overall awards.

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 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, Jenna Todd, Laura Caygill, Claire Murdoch 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.

The Acorn Foundation is a community foundation based in the Western Bay of Plenty, which encourages people to leave a gift in their wills and/or their lifetimes to support their local community forever. Donations are pooled and invested, and the investment income is used to make donations to local charities, in accordance with the donors’ wishes. The capital remains intact. Since it was established in 2003, Acorn has distributed over $13 million. Donors may choose which organisations are to benefit each year, or they may decide to leave it to the trustees’ discretion. Community foundations are the fastest growing form of philanthropy worldwide, and there are now 17 throughout New Zealand, with more in the early stages. The Prize for Fiction has been provided through the generosity of one of the Foundation’s donors, Jann Medlicott, and will be awarded to the top fiction work each year, in perpetuity. Its base figure of $50,000 in 2016 is adjusted each year, to reflect wage inflation.

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 in 2018 by the Auckland Writers Festival to support the growth and development of New Zealand’s literary landscape.  To achieve its goal the Foundation holds a biannual grants round, inviting submissions from projects that support and promote the work of New Zealand writers and/or increase the levels of literacy, engagement, or appreciation for New Zealand literature amongst New Zealand readers.

For 23 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 around 200 of the world’s best writers and thinkers from Aotearoa and abroad. This year’s Festival takes place from 16 – 21 May 2023.

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