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"Craft, nuance, urgent storytelling,.." - a stellar shortist for 2021 Ockhams

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Sixteen titles have been shortlisted from a record 179 entries at the 2021 Ockham NZ Book Awards. The winners of the four categories in fiction, poetry and non-fiction (x 2) will be announced, the authors garlanded at a glittering ceremony on Wednesday 12 May. Mighty mahi from all entrants!

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.

Fab Fiction

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.

Poetic Justice

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. 

Illustrated Non-Fiction Beautiful and engaging

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.

Genius General Non-Fiction

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

  • 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.

About the 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 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.

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.”