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Writers lauded at 2022 Ockhams (in most epic occasion since the Illiad)

A firmament of literary luminaries – including the humble supernova who is Patricia Grace, 84 years young – contended for the 2022 edition of the Royal Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Auckland's Q Theatre buzzed with words, soliloquies and frocks of rare fabulosity at the 2022 Royal Ockham New Zealand Book Awards on Wednesday. Though this year’s ceremony was pandemically pared back, the joyousness of the occasion – a real-life, actual event! – was clear in every moment, every reading.

‘Intense, Clever and Sexy as Hell’ Novel Wins Country’s Richest Writing Prize

Wellington novelist and playwright Whiti Hereaka (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Tūhourangi, Pākehā) swept up the $60,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction for her book Kurangaituku, a richly imagined contemporary retelling of the traditional Te Arawa story Hatupatu and the Bird-Woman.

Ms Hereaka received the prize ahead of Gigi Fenster (A Good Winter), Rebecca K Reilly (Greta & Valdin), and Bryan Walpert (Entanglement).

Convenor of judges, Rob Kidd, said: “Kurangaituku (Huia Publishers) is an extraordinary novel, unashamedly literary and utterly innovative.

“It’s an epic poem of a novel, resonant of Māori oral traditions, that gives a voice, form and a name to the bird-woman from the Māori myth. The ogress Kurangaituku tells us not only her side of the story but everything she knows about Te Ao Māori.

Kurangaituku is poetic, intense, clever and sexy as hell. It’s also an important novel. A game-changer.”

Then, in his understated Lancastrian brogue, Kidd added the highest praise of all. “Kurangaituku is dead good.” 

Joanna Preston wins Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for Tumble 

Tumble, Joanna Preston’s second published collection, encompasses myth and magic, including Vikings, astronauts and fallen angels. Poetry category convenor Dame Saradha Koirala lauded Tumble as a celebration of poetry that incorporates free verse and traditional forms. 

“Through her layering of art, re-imagining of historic moments and firm nods to poets past, Joanna Preston reminds us of Louise Gluck with her precise, evocative narratives, chiselled out of stone to reveal what was always there,” said Dame Koirala.

“Simply written, yet dramatic and powerfully eloquent, each poem in this book is a banger.” 

Also a banger? Justice Apirana Taylor’s thunderous speech as he presented the award. And shout-outs to nominees Tayi Tibble (Rangikura), Serie Barford (Sleeping with Stones) and Anne Kennedy (The Sea Walks into a Wall), whose impassioned recitations enthralled attendees. 

Old School elegance takes out Illustrated Non-Fiction

Claire Regnault won the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction for the stunningly presented Dressed: Fashionable Dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910.

Category convenor Chanel Clarke (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Porou, Waikato Tainui) says even those who believe themselves to be without interest in either clothing or our history will be seduced by Dressed

“Readers will find themselves transported to other worlds, populated by people, indigenous and immigrant, both heartachingly familiar and surprisingly exotic. Beautifully illustrated and deeply researched, Dressed is the complete package,” Judge Clarke said. “This is valuable addition to our nation’s story and a great example of what historical enquiry and non-fiction publishing can be.”

Work by fellow finalists Qiane Matata-Sipu (NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women), Lucy Mackintosh (Shifting Grounds: Deep Histories of Tāmaki Makaurau), and Bridget Hackshaw (The Architect and the Artists: Hackshaw, McCahon, Dibble) made this category a nail-biter, all worth a splurge at your local bookstore.

O’Malley breaks through in Non-Fiction category

Legendary historian Vincent O’Malley picked up the General Non-Fiction Award for his work, Voices from the New Zealand Wars | He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa

Category judging convenor Nicholas Reid says Vincent O’Malley’s book, published by Bridget Williams Books, meets all the criteria for a great work of non-fiction. 

Voices from the New Zealand Wars | He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa is the fruit of close historical research and is accessible to a wide readership. It tells us of the past but is relevant to the present, when public debate feeds New Zealanders’ hunger to know how our country was formed," enthused Justice Reid. “It is nuanced in its balance of both Māori and Pakeha voices and it respects the attitudes and assumptions of people who lived in an era different from our own.

“In bringing together these voices, O’Malley creates a coherent history of the New Zealand Wars, gives greater attention to wahine than earlier historians have, and deals carefully with contested events. The excellent book production is a credit to the publishers.” 

With non-fiction contenders including Patricia Grace (From the Centre: A Writer’s Life), Dave Lowe (The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change) and Charlotte Grimshaw (The Mirror Book), the standard in this category was absurdly high.

Crystal Arts Trust takes over sponsorship of the Best First Book category.

Four Crystal Arts Trust Best First Book Awards were also presented at the Ockhams. 

  • The Hubert Church Prize for a best first book of Fiction: Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly (Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Wai) (Te Herenga Waka University Press).
  • The Jessie Mackay Prize for a best first book of Poetry: Whai by Nicole Titihuia Hawkins (Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Ngāti Pāhauwera) (We are Babies Press).
  • The Judith Binney Prize for a best first work of Illustrated Non-Fiction: The Architect and the Artists: Hackshaw, McCahon, Dibble by Bridget Hackshaw (Massey University Press).
  • The E.H. McCormick Prize for a best first work of General Non-Fiction: The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change by Dave Lowe (Te Herenga Waka University Press).

A deep pool of talent

“As the longlists demonstrated, this was a year of original, excellent, ground-breaking books,” said Paula Morris, a trustee of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, which governs the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

“These eight writers – with books by seven different publishers – suggest our deep pool of talent, accomplishment, knowledge and imagination.” 

At the commencement of the ceremony, New Zealand Book Awards Trust chair Nicola Legat announced the Trust's new te reo Māori name – Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa – gifted by distinguished Māori language scholar Tā Tīmoti Kāretu and respected language consultant Pania Papa. 

In devising the name, Pania Papa said: “Sir Tīmoti Kāretu offered the term ‘hiringa’, which carries the meaning of ‘energy, inspiration and excellence’. We decided to combine the term with the word ‘rau’–carrying the meanings, ‘leaf’, ‘page’, and ‘numerous’ – to infuse the awards with all of those concepts that are related to the inspiration and creativity we gain from literature and the energy of authors.” 

The first part of the name, Te Ohu Tiaki, means a company of workers who take care of something. A loose translation of the second part is ‘hundreds of leaves of inspiration.’ 

“The Trust is honoured and thrilled to be gifted this new te reo Māori name,” said Nicola Legat. “It will be treasured. We think everyone would agree that it is just perfect.”
Photos: Marcel Tromp.