‘Knockout’ short story collection wins country’s richest writing prize
Whanganui writer Airini Beautrais has won the $57,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for her book Bug Week – the first person to take out the category for a collection of short stories in more than a decade.
Beautrais is well-known as a poet, but this is her first-ever book of fiction, published by Victoria University Press. She received the prize ahead of acclaimed novelists Catherine Chidgey and Pip Adam, both previous winners, and Brannavan Gnanalingam, shortlisted for the fiction prize in 2018. The awards ceremony, emcee’d by Jack Tame, was an Auckland Writers Festival marquee event held in the Aotea Centre on Wednesday 12 May.
The Fiction category’s convenor of judges, Kiran Dass, says Bug Week is a knockout from start to finish.
“Casting a devastating and witty eye on humanity at its most fallible and wonky, this is a tightly-wound and remarkably assured collection. Atmospheric and refined, these stories evoke a strong sense of quiet unease, slow burning rage and the absurdly comic.”
The Awards’ guest international fiction co-judge, award-winning American novelist Tommy Orange says, “I was consistently surprised by sentences, the beauty and singular language. If the book were a bug, it would be a big one, with teeth and venom, with wings and a surprising heart, possibly several, beating on every page with life.”
One of this country’s most respected writers, Dunedin’s Vincent O’Sullivan, won the General Non-Fiction Award for his work, The Dark is Light Enough: Ralph Hotere A Biographical Portrait (Penguin Random House NZ).
Category convenor Dr Sarah Shieff says as a biographer, O’Sullivan displays masterly skill in the layering of information, observation and anecdote.
“This is a sensitive, detailed portrait of one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important modern artists, shaped around the four pou of Hotere’s identity: his Māoritanga, his faith, his whenua, and his whānau. The judges would like to commend Vincent O’Sullivan for an extraordinary achievement in biography.”
Celebrated Christchurch poet Tusiata Avia won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her collection The Savage Coloniser Book (Victoria University Press). She is the first Pasifika woman ever to win this award.
Poetry category convenor Dr Briar Wood says Tusiata Avia’s The Savage Coloniser Book is an enthralling performance.
“The violence of shared and fractured histories surfaces throughout the collection like liquefaction, unsettling, displacing, disrupting. The poet’s experience of hospitalisation and seizures likewise overflows, mingling with the ancient arts of spiritual possession to inspire contemporary outpourings.
“In a year of outstanding poetry publications that respond to Covid, Black Lives Matter, the Christchurch Massacre, and ongoing violence against women, she expresses the outrage shared by many, while maintaining faith that love helps the healing process. It’s a book bursting with alofa, profound pantoums, profanity and FafSwaggering stances, garrulously funny, bleakly satirical, magnificent.”
Wellington chef and food writer Monique Fiso won the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction for the lavishly illustrated work Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine (Godwit, Penguin Random House NZ), named after her internationally lauded restaurant.
“The recipes in Monique Fiso’s first, extraordinary book occupy fewer than half of its pages. The rest is a tour de force of Māori knowledge, written from a Māori perspective.
“For many of us this will be our introduction to the indigenous cuisine of our own land, and its ingredients, practice, culture, history and knowledge. Monique Fiso’s text is hard-won, inspiring and utterly original in scope; the book is also beautifully designed and photographed,” says category convenor of judges Dale Cousens.
Te Mūrau o te Tuhi, a discretionary Māori Language Award, was presented this year to pioneering language and tikanga academic Tā Tīmoti Kāretu for his landmark work Mātāmua ko te Kupu!, whichoffers a lifetime of insights into the artforms of haka and waiata, published by Auckland University Press.
In presenting this award, judge Paraone Gloyne said: “Mātāmua ko te kupu! Koinei te kōrero a Tā Tākuta Tīmoti Kāretu, ka mutu, kāore i tua atu i a ia hei whakatauira i tēnei tauākī āna, i ōna hekenga werawera ki te reo i āna kaupapa huhua, mai, mai. Ko tana mahi hoki tērā mō te reo i ngā mahi a Tānerore, e tātai mai ana i roto i tana pukapuka nei, āna kitenga, ōna mōhiotanga, huri noa i tana takahi i roto i tērā ao hei kaihaka, hei kaitito, hei kaiako, hei kaiwhakawā, anō hoki. Tō tātou māri hoki kua kōpakina ōna whakaaro ki āna anō kupu ki te reo, i roto hoki i te wana, me te kupu horipū.”
“His efforts for te reo in traditional Māori performing arts are also recounted in his book, his views and knowledge informed by his journey in that realm as a performer, a composer, a tutor and a judge. We are fortunate that his reflections are encapsulated in his own words in the Māori language with such passion and candour.”
The General Non-Fiction, Poetry, Illustrated Non-Fiction category and Māori 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: Victory Park by Rachel Kerr (Mākaro Press).
The E.H. McCormick Prize for a best first work of General Non-Fiction: Specimen: Personal Essays by Madison Hamill (Victoria University Press).
The Jessie Mackay Prize for a best first book of Poetry: I Am a Human Being by Jackson Nieuwland (Compound Press).
The Judith Binney Prize for a best first work of Illustrated Non-Fiction: Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine by Monique Fiso (Godwit, Penguin Random House).
Each MitoQ Best First Book Award winner received $2,500 and a 12-month membership subscription to the New Zealand Society of Authors.
“This is a year of happy surprises and well-deserved recognition, from big names like O’Sullivan and Hotere to international stars like Monique Fiso, from a long-awaited award for Tusiata Avia to a major accolade for Airini Beautrais’ first work of fiction. The variety of publishers represented here also suggests the good health and high quality of our local industry,” says Paula Morris, a trustee of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, which governs the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.
The 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards judges were:
Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction: writer and reviewer Kiran Dass; books editor and award-winning feature writer Paul Little; writer Claire Finlayson, former Programme Director of the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival; and award-winningUS writer and enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, Tommy Orange.
General Non-Fiction Award: biographer, editor and academic 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.
Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry: Writer, poet and academic 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.
Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction: Dale Cousens (Ngāruahine)of the National Library of New Zealand; bookseller and former publisher Brian Phillips; and writer, multi-award-winning graphic designerand magazine art director Jenny Nicholls.
Te Mūrau o te Tuhi Māori Language Award: Paraone Gloyne (Ngāti Raukawa ki Wharepūhunga, Ngāti Maniapoto) is a prominent composer, orator, performing artist, and tikanga Māori and te reo Māori advisor.
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.
To find out more about the winners’ books go to http://www.nzbookawards.nz/new-zealand-book-awards/2021-awards/winners/
To download winners’ book covers: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/lji6afo50jhitkz/AACSruf_nn2JKgrDzRO8YIfEa?dl=0
To download winners’ author images: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/fz5smaevkphzdfp/AAD22UgxeiksztWFsHootXT7a?dl=0
MitoQ Best First Book Awards images: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/beu962s8cs225mt/AABRJBkwZoF5kVmlBc90x9Dra?dl=0
To download social media tiles: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/lugj4xqkau7cvgi/AAAsb64Ftw_deHALFmM-Jupla?dl=0
For interview opportunities and further information please contact: Penny Hartill, director, hPR 021 721 424, firstname.lastname@example.org
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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 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 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.