The just announced shortlist begins the countdown! Bigger further faster wider. The main takeaway from this year’s Ockham Book Awards shortlist is that we’re publishing across a wider range of subjects than ever before.
The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, formerly known as the New Zealand Book Awards, are a series of literary awards that recognize excellence in New Zealand literature. The awards are given in four categories: fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and illustrated non-fiction and books must have been published in New Zealand in the preceding calendar year to be eligible for consideration.
A panel of judges in each section winnowed down the longlist of 44 books to 16 titles. If a prize was awarded to diversity this shortlist would win.
New Zealand Book Awards Trust spokesperson Jenna Todd says
“There is no one dominating publisher this year with a range of 12 publishers shortlisted across 16 titles”
Not that the average reader is counting. Does anyone outside the industry name check a publisher when they talk about books?
But just as variety is the spice of life it’s also the coin in publishing. Right now when we’re at pains to capture as many truths and mental states that people experience, publishing in Aotearoa is stepping up. From a thorough explanation of The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi by Ned Fletcher (Bridget Williams Books) to a genius novel narrated through the cocked eye of a magpie –The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press) you can certainly say the shortlist contains multitudes.
I’m thrilled to see some of my favourite books of last year sitting there – Rachel Bucanon’s stunning Te Motonui Epā, the lilting memoir Grand by Noelle McCarthy, Joanna Cho’s People Person and We’re made of Lightning by Khadro Mohamed. As usual the non fiction and Illustrated non fiction shortlist contain the same ole awkwardness with big books of scholarship rubbing shoulders with small and perfectly formed volumes of subjective narrative. How the heck will a cultural history of the sixties Jumping Sundays by Nick Bollinger be judged against a comprehensive catalogue and serious assessment of the artist Robin White? But thankfully that’s not my job.
Each book on the list has met a threshold deserving of being read. Though only four of them will be grand prize winners, the shortlist is all! As the writer Nigel Cox (who was shortlisted more than once and never won) said “Awards matter terribly while you’re in the running and then suddenly and completely not at all”.
Judges comments are always guarded offering up little more than a rallying cheer for everyone on board. Not wanting to give the game away, it’s easier to try and say something about what the shortlist looks like, which is about as meaningful as discussing a patchwork quilt and not mentioning the peggy squares.
Diane Brown, the convener of judges for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry, has emphasized the selection of collections that raised challenging questions, stimulated imagination and required attention from the readers.
Jared Davidson, the convener of judges for the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction, praised the shortlisted works for their innovative designs and engaging storytelling, which have redefined the traditional concept of illustrated non-fiction. He highlighted the use of zine-like textures, elegant typography, and exquisite illustrations as signs of confidence in the current state of book production, with visual excellence complementing the books’ pertinent and captivating content.
Anna Rawhiti-Connell, the convener of judges for the General Non-Fiction Award, noted the diversity of forms exhibited in the shortlisted works, which showcase the broad scope of non-fiction writing in New Zealand and the authors’ mastery of their craft.
British writer, publisher and host of the books podcast Backlisted, John Mitchinson, will assist the three New Zealand judges to select the fiction winner.
Get in the game and start reading the shortlist now. We’ll be running competitions over the next couple of months to win copies of the books so stay tuned.
The 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlisted titles are:
*represents debut authors
Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction
Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant
Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry
Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction
General Non-Fiction Award
The 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards’ winners, including four Best First Book Awards recipients which are this year supported by the Mātātuhi Foundation, will be announced at a public ceremony on 17 May during the 2023 Auckland Writers Festival.
The winner of the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction will receive $64,000 in 2023 and each of the other main category prizes will earn their winners $12,000 (up from $10,000 in recent years). Each of the Best First Book winners, for fiction, poetry, general non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction, will be awarded $3000 (up from $2500).
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, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand, the Mātātuhi Foundation, and the Auckland Writers Festival.