The winners of the Heritage Literary Awards were announced on Thursday 24th October 2019 at St Michael’s and All Angels in Christchurch. This event was organised by NZSA Canterbury as part of the Christchurch Heritage Week supported by the City Council, Scorpio Books and Wily Publications Ltd. The Mayor, Lianne Dalziel attended and presented the prizes as well as speaking on the importance of Heritage to Christchurch.
This year the categories for published books were well supported. There were 57 separate books entered in the non-fiction section and these came from most of the major publishers who submitted works relating to New Zealand’s heritage.
The winner of the non-fiction award was The Pathway of the Birds by Andrew Crowe.
He is well-known as a writer and photographer of New Zealand’s native flora and fauna. The book was published by Bateman and the University of Hawaii Press.
This book brings together all the most recent research on how the Polynesians sailed the Pacific creating societies that are recognisably similar over a vast stretch of ocean. The book reveals the incredible extent of this exploration which created a culture more widespread than almost any other historic culture.
Crowe also looks at the way this exploration is linked with the migration of birds, animals and plants.
Judge Stevan Eldred-Grigg described it as a beautiful book not only because it brings recent historical research together, but also for its layout and design and the wonderful use of maps, photographs and diagrams.
The runner up was New Zealand and the Sea, Frances Steel (ed), Bridget Williams Books. It was described as another worthy book about New Zealand’s involvement with the sea.
Because of the number of non-fiction entries, it was decided this year to award a special $200 prize for the Best Heritage non-fiction book about Canterbury and the West Coast. The winner was Rising from the Rubble: a health system’s extraordinary response to the Canterbury earthquakes, Michael Ardagh and Joanne Deely, Canterbury University Press. The prize was donated by Wily Publications Ltd.
The fiction section attracted 16 entries and was judged by Paddy Richardson. The fiction winner was Purakau- Maori Myths Retold-edited Witi Ihimaera, Whiti Hereaka published by Vintage.
Paddy Richardson said that in this book Maori Myths and Legends were re-told as modern stories. She said it was a book everyone should read.
The runner-up was The Imaginary Lives of James Poneke by Tina Makereti, and published by Penguin Random House. It is already a highly regarded novel about a Maori boy who was taken to London in the 1840s as an exhibit.
There was also a special poetry book award to Brian Turner for his Collected Poetry, published by VUP. One of these was a very moving tribute to his father at Monte Casino, which he read from on the evening.
The winner of the short prose section was Janet Wainscott. Her story. The Missing was described by the judge Paul Maunder as…
‘a perfect piece of heritage writing…. There is genealogy, there is research from the time and use of newspaper articles, there is sociological information, family letters, a present-day visit to the Somme, and some elements of fictional imagining.’ The title refers to one of the soldiers whose body was never found.
The runner up was Sue Kingham with an autobiographical account of a couple coming from the United Kingdom who adopt two New Zealand children one of them of Maori heritage.
Te Awhina Arahanga who judged the poetry competition said that heritage poets ‘are the tellers of stories’ She picked Jillian Sullivan’s poem, The Huts as the winner and said:
…tonight we celebrate the poet who has managed to not only echo the experience of time passing but within the same moment – we are taken hand in hand to reflect ‘Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night’.
The runner up was Wendy Chenye with her poem Hiraeth.
All judges spoke of the high quality of all the entries and how difficult it was to make a selection.
NZSA Canterbury felt the competition had been well-worthwhile as it highlighted the strength of heritage writing in New Zealand. It is the fourth year that the competition has been run. They plan to run the competition again next year.