New Zealand has a number of Book Awards run by different organizations. It is a great way for me as an ex-pat to keep up to date with the best of New Zealand writing. Awards can be arbitrary and follow the whimsy of the awards panel but overall what they offer all of us is an opportunity to read the best literature published that year.
I was fortunate to be able to return to New Zealand almost every year and I always packed my library card first. The picture beside my bio below is of me having collected all the books I had ordered from my local library. I am not great at predicting the winners of these awards, simply because I cannot read every book on the shortlist as I used to. I simply read the lists and arbitrarily choose a few that stretch me beyond my usual reading comfort zone.
One such title was on the shortlist for general non-fiction prize, “Hudson & Halls: The food of love,” by Joanne Drayton. I chose it because Peter Hudson and David Halls were famous for their cooking show which aired in New Zealand during the 70s and 80s. Their flair for cooking was only part of the appeal of their show as they were a couple off air as well as on the screen. Their flamboyant style and larger than life personalities endeared them to the nation and helped in no small way to break down prejudice against homosexuality. The book was a delight and despite not being a great fan of love stories, I picked it up because of the shortlist. This year I am looking forward to reading “The meaning of trees: The history and use of New Zealand’s native plants,” by Robert Vennell – shortlisted in the same category.
Books that have found their way into my suitcase to bring back to our library have also been found this way. “The Chimes” by Anna Smaill, published in 2015 it made the longlist for the Booker and the New Zealand Book Awards for the first novel. Again it is outside my usual reading comfort zone in that it is a dystopian novel but a real page-turner. “Singing Home the Whale” by Mandy Hager published in 2014 and winner of the Young Adult novel section was a beautiful story of a whale rescue, with the added twist of a teenage boy trying to overcome the embarrassment of freezing during a talent show immortalised on YouTube. There are many others – all books brought to my attention through Awards.
The New Zealand Book Awards Trust runs two of the awards. The New Zealand Book Awards were established in 1968, and in their current format, the annual Ockham New Zealand Book Awards offer five principal prizes: the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry, the Illustrated Non-Fiction Award, the General Non-Fiction Award and Te Mūrau o te Tuhi Māori Language Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori, awarded at the discretion of a specially appointed judge. There are also four Best First Book awards, supported by MitoQ. A long list of up to 40 titles is announced in late January, and a shortlist is released in early March. The awards ceremony is held as part of the Auckland Writers Festival in May each year.
The trust also runs the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Awards in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are made in six categories: Picture Book, Junior Fiction (the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award), Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction (the Elsie Locke Award), Illustration (the Russell Clark Award) and te reo Māori (the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award). A shortlist is announced in June each year, and the awards event is held in August of the same year.
Storylines offers eight awards to writers, illustrators, publishers and those working in the field of children’s’ literature and literacy. These are:
- Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal and Lecture Award for lifetime achievement and a distinguished contribution to New Zealand children’s literature and literacy.
- Storylines Betty Gilderdale Award for outstanding service to New Zealand children’s literature and literacy.
- Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award for a children’s novel manuscript by an unpublished writer, in association with Scholastic New Zealand.
- Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a much-loved book.
- Storylines Joy Cowley Award for a picture book text, in association with Scholastic New Zealand.
- Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for a previously unpublished picture book illustrator, in association with Penguin Random House New Zealand.
- Storylines Tessa Duder Award for a young adult novel manuscript, open to published and unpublished writers in association with Walker Books Australia.
- Storylines Notable Book Award List for books published in the previous calendar year.
The winners’ lists for all the awards are available on their websites.
One way to keep up to date with what is new in New Zeland literature is to follow the awards.
So as I near the end of this month of New Zealand literature I hope you will forgive me for the omissions of so many other kiwi greats, Janet Frame, Alan Duff, Elizabeth Knox and many more. It is worth looking at Gecko Press as a great source of books from New Zealand and around the world. I look forward to returning to New Zealand permanently in June. I will be able to read the new talents of the New Zealand literary world. I will be following the Awards of course.
Amanda Bond is a New Zealand ex-pat currently working as Teacher Librarian in an international school in Istanbul, Turkey. Her twitter handle is @kiwionthego