Wellingtonian wins inaugural Sargeson Prize short story competition – congrats to NZSA members Sam Keenan, Elizabeth Morton, Kathryn van Beek & Xiaole Zhan

  Thursday 10 October 2019  

Judge says short story writing in New Zealand is in excellent health.  

Celebrating New Zealand literary talent, the inaugural Sargeson Prize was awarded last night – the country’s richest short story prize – with Wellingtonian Sam Keenan
(NZSA Mentee 2016) taking out $5000 and first place in the Open Division for her story ‘Better Graces’.  

Award-winning writer, University of Waikato lecturer and 2019 judge Catherine Chidgey says while the story was one of the shorter entries, every word earned its place. “Narrated by an anonymous, collective ‘we’, ‘Better Graces’ is an aching evocation of a time when children were beaten for speaking te reo. It considers the nature of language itself; how it can erase as much as it can name.”  

Second place was won by Aucklander Elizabeth Morton for ‘Elephant’ and third place by University of Waikato graduate Hamish Ansley for ‘Vicious Traditions’.   Ms Chidgey says whittling down the entries was a near-impossible job due to the quality of stories submitted.   “We attracted over 600 entries to the Open Division, and the standard was very high. Big names competed with new talent, which is a real testament to the enduring interest in this beautiful and exciting literary form. “The New Zealand short story is in excellent health,” says Ms Chidgey.  

Two remarkable stories in the Secondary Schools Division led to a joint win for Elijah Neilson-Edwards of Wellington High School for his piece ‘Stray Dog’, and Xiaole Zhan (NZSA Youth mentee) of Westlake Girls High School for ‘Woman, sitting in a garden’.   

Ms Chidgey says that both stories were exceptional and could hold their own easily in the Open Division. She says Elijah and Xiaole are named to watch.   “The wonderful thing for the Secondary Schools Division winners is that in addition to the prize money, they also receive a week-long summer writing residency here at Waikato that will help develop their skills further.” Ms Chidgey says that this is part of the award’s focus on encouraging new voices and ensuring the future of the genre in New Zealand.   Hosted by award sponsors the University of Waikato, the event was held in conjunction with the University’s annual Frank Sargeson Memorial Lecture. For 17 years the memorial lecture has celebrated the memory of the Hamilton-born writer who changed the face of New Zealand literature through his short stories and novels.  This year’s guest speaker, New Zealand cartoonist and author Dylan Horrocks, explored how the local comics landscape offers some surprising insights into New Zealand’s cultural history.  
The full list of Sargeson Prize award winners is below:  

Open Division: First: Sam Keenan for ‘Better Graces’. Sam is from Wellington. Second: Elizabeth Morton for ‘Elephant’. Elizabeth is from Auckland. Third: Hamish Ansley for ‘Vicious Traditions’. Hamish is a graduate of the Writing Studies programme at the University of Waikato.

Highly commended: Susanna Gendall for ‘Hunting’; Robert Hurley for ‘Heel Turn’; Zoë Meager for ‘Together’; Kathryn van Beek (NZSA CompleteMS recipient) for ‘The Nor’Wester’.  

Secondary School’s Division: First equal: Elijah Neilson-Edwards from Wellington High School for ‘Stray Dog’. First equal: Xiaole Zhan from Westlake Girls High School for ‘Woman, sitting in a garden’. Second: Ariana Happy from Marist College for ‘Through Glass Eels’. Third: Amberlea Gordon from Christian Renewal School for ‘The White Dress’.

Highly commended: Caitlin Brennan from Nelson College for Girls for ‘Validating my memories’; Banisha Barkha Pratap from Papatoetoe High School for ‘Pink Bloody Mess’; Victoria Sun from Epsom Girls Grammar School for ‘Brian and Elliot’.  

About the Sargeson Prize
New in 2019, the Sargeson Prize is New Zealand’s richest short story prize, sponsored by the University of Waikato. Named after celebrated New Zealand writer Frank Sargeson, the Prize was conceived by writer Catherine Chidgey, who also lectures in Writing Studies at the University.   In the Open Division, first, second and third place winners take away prizes of $5,000, $1,000 and $500 respectively.

The winning story will also be published in Landfall and in Mayhem. The second and third placing stories will also be published in Mayhem.  

Secondary Schools Division winners receive $500, $200 and $100 respectively, with first-equal both receiving a week-long summer writing residency at the University of Waikato.

This includes accommodation and meals at one of the University halls of residence, a writing mentor who will offer feedback on their work, and a writing space in the School of Arts.  

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