The Ockham NZ Book Award 2019 Winners

Sean Mallon and Sébastien Galliot, Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing
Dame Fiona Kidman, This Mortal Boy.
Joanne Drayton, Hudson and Halls: The Food of Love
Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and Dr Wharehuia Milroy, He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao
Tibble Tayi. Photo: Ebony Lamb
Helen Heath. Photo: Victoria Birkinshaw
For those looking for a great new book to read, we have the winners of this year’s Ockham NZ Book Awards.


The country’s top writers and poets were celebrated at the annual Ockham NZ Book Awards held in conjunction with the Auckland Writers’ Festival at the Aotea Centre this week.  The Big Idea’s Andrea Rush was there to soak up some inspiration and share in a much anticipated event calling out Aotearoa’s master artists of the written word. So for readers, festival goers and all those stalwarts of Aotearoa’s book clubs here’s the list. 

‘The Ockhams’ are the premier literary honours for books written by New Zealanders and were 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.

The Auckland Writers Festival, the largest literary event in New Zealand is on from May 13 to 19. Now in its 19th year, it hosts more than 200 local and international writers for seven days of discussion, conversation, reading, debate, performance, schools, family and free events ranging across fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, theatre, culture, art and more.

Top Prize for Fiction

Dame Fiona Kidman took out the top prize when she was awarded this year’s $53,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize for her novel, This Mortal Boy, a work described by the judges as ‘moving, memorable, authentic and urgently relevant to our times.

The book published by Penguin Random House received the honour ahead of a strong line-up of finalists comprising Lloyd Jones (The Cage), Kate Duignan (The New Ships) and Vincent O’Sullivan (All This by Chance) at the Auckland Writers Festival marquee event held in the Aotea Centre.

“In This Mortal Boy, Fiona Kidman has written an intensely human and empathetic story, recreating the events leading to the real life hanging of ’jukebox killer‘ Paddy Black at Mount Eden prison in 1955.

With seeming effortlessness, she pulls the reader into mid-century New Zealand – the restlessness of a new urban youth culture, the moral panic that led to the Mazengarb report, the damning assumptions of the legal profession and the unchallenged omissions that eased the pathway to a young man’s death,” said this year’s fiction category judges.

And the Non-Fiction prize goes to….

New York Times best-selling author and academic Joanne Drayton won the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction for Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love (Otago University Press).

The category judges said Hudson & Halls is not simply the story of celebrity chefs: “It is a generous, multi-layered, and touching account of companionship and enduring love.

Set against the backdrop of the double act many of us will remember, Hudson & Halls, reveals the humour and drama of this couple’s onscreen chemistry, and is a deeply moving and often surprising account of their private life. Set within the context of significant social and political moments over four decades and three countries, Joanne Drayton’s fresh approach to storytelling makes this a must-read.

Poetic risk-taking proves a winner!

Helen Heath won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her collection Are Friends Electric? (Victoria University Press) .

“By turns thoughtful and moving, Are Friends Electric? asks how the material world might mediate—or replace—human relationships.

Helen Heath’s collection impressed the judging panel with its broad thematic reach, its willingness to tackle complex issues, and its poetic risk-taking,” said the judges.

This category is supported by Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM who are long-time arts advocates and patrons – particularly of literature and theatre.

Helen Heath. Photo: Victoria Birkinshaw

A Pacific art form takes out the illustrated Non-Fiction Prize

Senior curator Sean Mallon and French ethnologist Sébastien Galliot took the Illustrated Non-Fiction category for their work Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing (Te Papa Press).

The book which traces the art form from 3,000 years ago to the present day is described by judges as a visual feast.

“...quality design is met with innovative writing that both records and opens up new territory, creating a book that will expand and enrich the knowledge of readers throughout Aotearoa, the Moana Pacific and beyond. Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing celebrates the tactile pleasure of a book in the hand, and should be acknowledged as a milestone in contemporary publishing.

Celebrating Te Reo literature

Te Mūrau o te Tuhi, a discretionary Māori Language Award, was presented this year for the landmark work He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao by pioneering language and tikanga academics Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and the late Dr Wharehuia Milroy published by Auckland University Press.

Te Reo Māori judge Dr Ruakere Hond acknowledged the very recent passing of Dr Milroy in announcing the award.

Staunch advocates of our spoken reo have relentlessly sought to sit down with these two most influential exponents of reo Māori, from the past and for today. Few have had the opportunity; this book now opens that door.

Tīmoti Kāretu and the late Wharehuia Milroy invite the reader into their conversations, their yarns and musings from decades of cultural experience.  This book’s provides much needed literature to proponents of Te Reo with ‘Its accessible language,’ providing a doorway to their world,” said Dr Hond.

The General Non-Fiction, Poetry, Illustrated Non-Fiction category and Māori Language Award winners each took home a $10,000 prize.

Climbing the literary everest …

Each of the four winners in the MitoQ Best First Book Awards shared what a mammoth effort it took to get their first book published and the thrill of being able to call themselves a writer.

The Hubert Church Prize for a best first book of Fiction awarded to Kirsten Warner for The Sound of Breaking Glass (Mākaro Press); The E.H. McCormick Prize for a best first work of General Non-Fiction was presented to Chessie Henry for We Can Make a Life (Victoria University Press); The Jessie Mackay Prize for a best first book of Poetry was awarded to Tayi Tibble for Poūkahangatus (Victoria University Press); and the Judith Binney Prize for a best first work of Illustrated Non-Fiction went to John Reid for Whatever It Takes: Pacific Films and John O’Shea 1948-2000 (Victoria University Press).

Each MitoQ Best First Book Award winner received $2500.

Tahi Tibble Tayi. Photo: Ebony Lamb

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