Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Finalists Reveal a Shift in New Zealand Writing and Publishing


 The shortlist for the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, released today, is a dazzling reflection of the robust, innovative literature scene of Aotearoa New Zealand, revealing a deeper engagement with our culturally diverse society.


In the Fiction category, two past winners are vying for the same award. Catherine Chidgey and Pip Adam are both contenders for the $57,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, alongside Brannavan Gnanalingam, a previous nominee, and the critically acclaimed story writer Airini Beautrais.


The works on the Fiction shortlist explore the range of human experience, from the ‘wilful blindness’ of Nazi-occupied Germany demonstrated in Remote Sympathy (Chidgey) and an exhilarating take on surveillance, identity, gender and people living on the margins in Nothing to See (Adams), to violence, racism and toxic masculinity played out in Sprigs (Gnanalingam) and short stories which explore the weird, the eerie and the mordantly funny in Bug Week (Beautrais).

These four highly accomplished works couldn’t be more different but all pack an immense literary punch, says Fiction category convenor of judges Kiran Dass. “Craft, nuance, urgent storytelling, rage against injustice, and new perspectives are at the forefront of these four impressive books,” says Ms Dass.

Award-winning American novelist Tommy Orange will assist the three New Zealand judges to select this year’s Fiction winner.

In each category – fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction and general non-fiction – four finalists were selected by discrete panels of three specialist judges, narrowing down from a longlist of ten. The total number of entries this year was 179 – a 16 percent increase in submissions on the last two years.

The finalists in the 2021 Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry are: Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker; Magnolia 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles; National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan; and The Savage Coloniser Book by Tusiata Avia.

“Poetry collections published in Aotearoa in 2020 show a wealth of exceptional and original work.  It’s an exciting situation for New Zealand poetry. The four shortlisted collections are striking, all exhibiting an acute global consciousness in difficult times,” says Poetry category convenor of judges Dr Briar Wood.

The 2021 Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction finalists are: An Exquisite Legacy: The Life and Work of New Zealand Naturalist G.V. Hudson by George Gibbs; Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine by Monique Fiso; Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists by Leonard Bell; and Nature — Stilled by Jane Ussher.

“The four finalists are standout examples of a dazzlingly broad range of passions, from the arts and sciences to food, adventure and the outdoors, distilled into beautiful and engaging works,” says category convenor Dale Cousens.

The 2021 General Non-Fiction category finalists are:  Specimen: Personal Essays by Madison Hamill; Te Hāhi Mihinare |The Māori Anglican Church by Hirini Kaa; The Dark is Light Enough: Ralph Hotere A Biographical Portrait by Vincent O’Sullivan; and This Pākehā Life: An Unsettled Memoir by Alison Jones.

General Non-Fiction category convenor of judges Sarah Shieff says the finalists’ books are alive with the flows of history and power that shape all of our lives.

“These four books, each in its own way an extraordinary achievement in the category’s defining parameters of story-telling, research and memory work, will enrich the conversations we have about ourselves and this place for years to come,” says Dr Shieff.


New Zealand Book Awards Trust spokesperson Paula Morris says “I’m delighted to see such rich variety and high quality in every category, exploring so many aspects of our society, history and creativity. “This year’s finalists also reveal a shift in New Zealand writing and publishing, a deeper engagement with multicultural New Zealand. The poetry list alone includes work by Māori, Pasifika, Asian and Egyptian-born writers. There’s so much to celebrate here, and so much to discover.”

The winners of the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, including the four MitoQ Best First Book award winners, will be announced at a ceremony on 12 May as a public event during the 2021 Auckland Writers Festival.

The 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlisted titles are:

Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction

Bug Week & Other Stories by Airini Beautrais (Victoria University Press)

Nothing to See by Pip Adam (Victoria University Press)

Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press)

Sprigs by Brannavan Gnanalingam (Lawrence & Gibson)


Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry

Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)

Magnolia 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles (Seraph Press)

National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan (Dead Bird Books)

The Savage Coloniser Book by Tusiata Avia (Victoria University Press)


Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction

An Exquisite Legacy: The Life and Work of New Zealand Naturalist G.V. Hudson by George Gibbs (Potton & Burton)

Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine by Monique Fiso (Godwit, Penguin Random House)

Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists by Leonard Bell (Auckland University Press)

Nature — Stilled by Jane Ussher (Te Papa Press)


General Non-Fiction Award

Specimen: Personal Essays by Madison Hamill (Victoria University Press)

Te Hāhi Mihinare |The Māori Anglican Church by Hirini Kaa (Bridget Williams Books)

The Dark is Light Enough: Ralph Hotere A Biographical Portrait by Vincent O’Sullivan (Penguin, Penguin Random House)

This Pākehā Life: An Unsettled Memoir by Alison Jones (Bridget Williams Books)


The General Non-Fiction, Poetry and Illustrated Non-Fiction category winners will each receive a $10,000 prize. The winners of the four MitoQ Best First Book awards will each receive $2,500.


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, MitoQ, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand and the Auckland Writers Festival.


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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 list of finalists above, and the overall awards.


This year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards judges are: writer and reviewer Kiran Dass; books editor and award-winning feature writer Paul Little; and writer Claire Finlayson, former Programme Director of the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival (Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction); Briar Wood (Te Hikutu ki Hokianga, Ngāpuhi Nui); teacher and award-winning poet and novelist Anne Kennedy; and professor of English at the University of Otago Jacob Edmond (Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry); Dale Cousens (Ngāruahine) of the National Library of New Zealand; bookseller and former publisher Brian Phillips; and writer, multi-award-winning graphic designer and magazine art director Jenny Nicholls (Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction); and associate professor of English at the University of Waikato Sarah Shieff; filmmaker and lecturer in Māori history at Victoria University Wellington Arini Loader (Ngāti Raukawa, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Whakaue); and Dunedin bookseller Michael Yeomans (General Non-Fiction Award).


Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There There, was a New York Times bestseller, won the 2018 PEN America Hemingway Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Orange is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Oakland, California.


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 awards for first-time authors (The MitoQ 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 (a registered charity). Current members of the Trust are Nicola Legat, Karen Ferns, Paula Morris, Jenna Todd, Anne Morgan, Melanee Winder, Melinda Szymanik and Richard Pamatatau. 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 ardent 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 their principal sponsorship of the New Zealand Book Awards, a relationship now in its seventh year, is perhaps their 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 $$8.6 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, Latin and Greek. They have been consistent supporters of the International Festival of the Arts, the Auckland Writers Festival, Wellington’s Circa Theatre, the New Zealand Arts Foundation, Featherston Booktown, Read NZ Te Pou Muramura (formerly the New Zealand Book Council), the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Featherston Sculpture Trust and the Kokomai Arts Festival in the Wairarapa. 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 was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for arts governance and philanthropy in 2013.


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.


MitoQ is one of New Zealand’s newest global success stories. Founded on breakthrough cellular research undertaken at the University of Otago, MitoQ® is the only product to directly target the mitochondria, which are responsible for producing the body’s energy. Over 400 reviews and studies have to date been published on the positive benefits of MitoQ® to health and athletic performance. MitoQ’s success has placed the company in the exciting position of being able to put back into its communities through sponsorship, particularly in the arts, which it sees as essential to the wellbeing of society. The company is delighted to support the enrichment of New Zealand literature through the MitoQ Best First Book awards.


The Auckland Writers Festival | Waituhi o Tāmaki is the largest literary event in New Zealand and the largest presenter of Aotearoa literature in the world. Established in 1999, this annual festival hosts more than 200 writers for six days of discussion, conversation, reading, debate, performance, schools, family and free events ranging across fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, theatre, culture, art and more. Audience attendance in 2019 exceeded 83,000. This year’s Festival takes place 11-16 May 2021.

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