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Literary heavyweights vie for top fiction prize in Ockham NZ Book Awards

Booker Prize-winning author Eleanor Catton faces off against critically acclaimed former national award winners Emily Perkins, Pip Adam and Stephen Daisley for the $65,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, as finalists in the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards announced today.

The four novelists are joined by a further 12 acclaimed and debut finalist authors of memoir, poetry, history, art, and te ao Mâori in one of the country’s strongest-ever years for book publishing.

The 16 finalists were selected from a longlist of 44 books by panels of specialist judges across four categories: fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction, and general non-fiction.

Catton, who won the Booker Prize in 2013 for The Luminaries, is a finalist for her novel Birnam Wood; Perkins, who won the Montana Medal for Fiction or Poetry in 2009 for Novel About My Wife is shortlisted with Lioness; Adam, who won the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize in 2018 for The New Animals is in the running with Audition; and Daisley, who won the first awarded Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize in 2016 for Coming Rain is a contender this year with A Better Place.

Juliet Blyth, convenor of judges for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, says there is much to celebrate amongst this year’s shortlisted novels, and readers will be rewarded by the richness contained within their pages.

“These four singular and accomplished titles encompass pertinent themes of social justice, violence, activism, capitalism, war, identity, class, and more besides. Variously confronting, hilarious, philosophical, and heart-rending, these impressive works showcase Aotearoa storytellers at the top of their game.”

Best-selling British author, writer, broadcaster and former Booker Prize judge Natalie Haynes will assist the three New Zealand judges in selecting the fiction winner.

The finalists in the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry include three debut authors: Megan Kitching (At the Point of Seeing), Grace Yee (Chinese Fish) and Isla Huia (Talia); and poet and map maker, Bill Nelson (Root Leaf Flower Fruit).

Erik Kennedy, convenor of judges for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry, says the four finalist collections are grounded in the experience of life in Aotearoa but through their restless, ambitious poetics are capable of taking readers almost anywhere.

“These volumes blur genres and disrupt preconceptions of poetic form, they re-vision landscapes and histories, and they deploy languages other than English in distinct ways that encourage multiplicity,” he says.

The finalists in the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction are multi-award-winning art historian, poet and painter Gregory O’Brien MNZM (Don Binney: Flight Path); co-author curators Lauren Gutsell, Lucy Hammonds, Bridget Reweti (Ngâti Ranginui, Ngâi Te Rangi) (Marilynn Webb: Folded in the Hills); debut author and fungi and forager enthusiast Liv Sisson (Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide); and historian and first-time author Ryan Bodman (Rugby League in New Zealand: A People’s History).

Lynn Freeman, convenor of judges for the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction, says our past, present and future live within the four gloriously illustrated finalist books, in which words and images sit in perfect harmony.

“This has been the year of the art book, lavishly illustrated, lovingly researched and written, insightful, profound and beautiful artworks in their own right. Here, too, are under-appreciated (until now) stories that provide invaluable contributions to our understanding of what it means to be a New Zealander,” she says.

The General Non-Fiction finalists are Auckland University of Technology Vice Chancellor, interdisciplinary scholar and award-winning author Damon Salesa (An Indigenous Ocean: Pacific Essays); celebrated novelist and memoirist Barbara Else (Laughing at the Dark: A Memoir); non-fiction author Jeff Evans (Ngâtokimatawhaorua: The Biography of a Waka); and debut author, physician and memoirist Emma Espiner (Ngâti Tukorehe, Ngâti Porou) (There’s a Cure for This).

Jim Tully ONZM, convenor of judges for the General Non-Fiction Award, says this year’s entries treated judges to a wide array of narratives – rich life stories; biographies of birds, sea life and waka; and deep investigations into Kaupapa, from communes to ora (wellbeing).

“The judges came to the unanimous decision that the final four represent the best of the best – accessible yet robust academic inquiries; novel and unheard stories; and narratives that warm, sadden and unsettle all within the same cover,” he says.

Nicola Legat, spokesperson for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa, says that this year’s shortlist holds worlds of riches for all readers.

“There is a dazzling variety of outstanding writing including powerful personal stories, punchy and revealing poetry, and fresh reflections on contemporary issues. The fiction shortlist is one of the strongest in the award’s history. It’s remarkable that all four finalists are previous winners. In every category, each finalist title is ambitious in scope and offers vivid reflections on Aotearoa’s past, present and future.” Each finalist title is ambitious in scope and offers vivid reflections on Aotearoa’s past, present, and future.

“In these finalist books we can also see publishers at the tops of their games. There are 11 publishers shortlisted across 16 titles. What a knockout year,” she says.

The 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlisted titles are:

-represents debut authors

Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction

A Better Place by Stephen Daisley (Text Publishing)

Audition by Pip Adam (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Lioness by Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury)

Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry

At the Point of Seeing by Megan Kitching (Otago University Press) –

Chinese Fish by Grace Yee (Giramondo Publishing) –

Root Leaf Flower Fruit by Bill Nelson (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Talia by Isla Huia (Te Âti Haunui a-Pâpârangi, Uenuku) (Dead Bird Books) –

Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction

Don Binney: Flight Path by Gregory O’Brien (Auckland University Press)

Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide by Liv Sisson (Penguin, Penguin Random House)-

Marilynn Webb: Folded in the Hills by Lauren Gutsell, Lucy Hammonds, Bridget Reweti (Ngâti Ranginui, Ngâi Te Rangi) (Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

Rugby League in New Zealand: A People’s History by Ryan Bodman (Bridget Williams Books)-

General Non-Fiction Award

An Indigenous Ocean: Pacific Essays by Damon Salesa (Bridget Williams Books)

Laughing at the Dark: A Memoir by Barbara Else (Penguin, Penguin Random House)

Ngâtokimatawhaorua: The Biography of a Waka by Jeff Evans (Massey University Press)

There’s a Cure for This by Emma Espiner (Ngâti Tukorehe, Ngâti Porou) (Penguin, Penguin Random House) –

The 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards’ winners, including the four Mâtâtuhi Foundation Best First Book Awards recipients, will be announced at a public ceremony on 15 May during the 2024 Auckland Writers Festival.

The winner of the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction will receive $65,000 and each of the three other main category winners will receive $12,000. Each of the Best First Book winners, for fiction, poetry, general non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction, will be awarded $3000.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by Ockham Residential, Creative New Zealand, the late Jann Medlicott and the Acorn Foundation, Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand, the Mâtâtuhi Foundation, and the Auckland Writers Festival.

To find out more about the shortlisted titles go to https://www.nzbookawards.nz/new-zealand-book-awards/2024-awards/shortlist/

 

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