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Shortlist Announced for the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

Shortlist Announced for the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

Literary Heavyweights Vie for Top Writing Honours

Four of the country’s most respected novelists are in the running for New Zealand’s richest fiction writing prize with today’s announcement of the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlist.

Commonwealth Prize-winning novelist Catherine Chidgey’s The Wish Child is one of the contenders for the $50,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, as are multi-award winning writer Owen Marshall’s Love as a Stranger, critic, poet and novelist C.K. Stead’s The Name on the Door is Not Mine, and critically acclaimed poet and novelist Emma Neale’s Billy Bird.

The prize, now in its second year, is awarded through the generosity of one of the Acorn Foundation’s donors.

The Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize judges’ convenor, Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb, says all four finalists demonstrate compelling writing, surprising plots, sudden poignancies, sharp humour and beautifully observed characters. “These are the books that we loved, that provoked, that excited us, and that we are still thinking about.”

For the first time in the history of the New Zealand Book Awards, an international judge will assist in selecting the winner of the fiction category.

Distinguished Canadian writer Madeleine Thien will be the first to assume this role. New Zealand Book Awards Trust chair, Nicola Legat, says this country’s writers have long wished for an international view of their books, and having an international judge will now be a permanent feature of this award.

Ms Legat further reports that judges across all categories found selecting a shortlist in a very tight longlist field difficult. “The overall standard of publishing in New Zealand in the last year was so very high.”

In the Poetry category, the finalists are Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu | Spirit House; Hera Lindsay Bird’s Hera Lindsay Bird; Andrew Johnston’s Fits & Starts, and Gregory Kan’s This Paper Boat.

The Poetry convenor, Harry Ricketts, says that each finalist was highly accomplished, ambitious, demanding and rewarding. “The quality of long-listed collections by experienced poets was extremely high, so too that of first-timers. And the collections, so striking, so innovative, were so distinctive in poetics and in content. Each [of the four finalists] pushes you outside your comfort zone, adjusts your expectations, sends you back to discover new things about the poems, about yourself reading them.”

The finalists in the Illustrated Non-Fiction category are Barbara Brookes’ A History of New Zealand Women; Warren Moran’s New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, the People; Peter Simpson’s Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-1953, and Ann Shelton: Dark Matter edited by Zara Stanhope.

“Stylish production enhanced the aesthetic appeal of the Illustrated Non-Fiction shortlisted books, with crisp photography and fascinating historical images complemented by great design,” says the convenor, Linda Tyler. “They each showcase the skills of Aotearoa New Zealand’s writers, editors, designers, printers and publishers, presenting aspects of our life and culture in original and compelling ways,” she says.

The General Non-Fiction category’s finalists are Anthony Byrt’s This Model World: Travels to the Edge of Contemporary Art; Adam Dudding’s My Father’s Island; Ben Schrader’s The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920, and Ashleigh Young’s Can You Tolerate This? Convenor Susanna Andrew says the judges chose the books that thrilled them with their vigour, originality and wisdom. “These four stood apart from the rest from the very start for their honesty and prose style and for being alive to the very art of writing.”

The winner of this category will receive the inaugural Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction.

The 16 finalist books were selected by four panels of three specialist judges and were drawn from 40 longlisted titles out of a total of 150 entries.

The 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist titles are:


  • The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press)
  • Love as a Stranger by Owen Marshall (Vintage, Penguin Random House)
  • Billy Bird by Emma Neale (Vintage, Penguin Random House)
  • The Name on the Door is Not Mine by C.K. Stead (Allen & Unwin)


  • Fale Aitu | Spirit House by Tusiata Avia (Victoria University Press)
  • Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird (Victoria University Press)
  • Fits & Starts by Andrew Johnston (Victoria University Press)
  • This Paper Boat by Gregory Kan (Auckland University Press)


  • A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes (Bridget Williams Books)
  • New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, the People by Warren Moran (Auckland University Press)
  • Ann Shelton: Dark Matter, edited by Zara Stanhope and managing editor Clare McIntosh (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki)
  • Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-1953 by Peter Simpson (Auckland University Press)


  • This Model World: Travels to the Edge of Contemporary Art by Anthony Byrt (Auckland University Press)
  • My Father’s Island by Adam Dudding (Victoria University Press)
  • The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920 by Ben Schrader (Bridget Williams Books)
  • Can You Tolerate This? By Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press)

The winners (including of the four Best First Book awards) will be announced at the Auckland Writers Festival on Tuesday May 16. The awards ceremony is open to the public. Tickets to the event can be purchased via Ticketmaster once Festival bookings open on Friday 17 March.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by Ockham Residential, Creative New Zealand, the Acorn Foundation, Book Tokens (NZ) Ltd and the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi.

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