In the Fiction category, two past winners are vying for the same award. Catherine Chidgey and Pip Adam are both contenders for the $57,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, alongside Brannavan Gnanalingam, a previous nominee, and the critically acclaimed story writer Airini Beautrais.
The works on the Fiction shortlist explore the range of human experience, from the ‘wilful blindness’ of Nazi-occupied Germany demonstrated in Remote Sympathy (Chidgey) and an exhilarating take on surveillance, identity, gender and people living on the margins in Nothing to See (Adams), to violence, racism and toxic masculinity played out in Sprigs (Gnanalingam) and short stories which explore the weird, the eerie and the mordantly funny in Bug Week (Beautrais).
These four highly accomplished works couldn’t be more different but all pack an immense literary punch, says Fiction category convenor of judges Kiran Dass. “Craft, nuance, urgent storytelling, rage against injustice, and new perspectives are at the forefront of these four impressive books,” says Ms Dass.
Award-winning American novelist Tommy Orange will assist the three New Zealand judges to select this year’s Fiction winner.
In each category – fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction and general non-fiction – four finalists were selected by discrete panels of three specialist judges, narrowing down from a longlist of ten. The total number of entries this year was 179 – a 16 percent increase in submissions on the last two years.
The finalists in the 2021 Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry are: Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker; Magnolia 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles; National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan; and The Savage Coloniser Book by Tusiata Avia.
“Poetry collections published in Aotearoa in 2020 show a wealth of exceptional and original work. It's an exciting situation for New Zealand poetry. The four shortlisted collections are striking, all exhibiting an acute global consciousness in difficult times,” says Poetry category convenor of judges Dr Briar Wood.
The 2021 Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction finalists are: An Exquisite Legacy: The Life and Work of New Zealand Naturalist G.V. Hudson by George Gibbs; Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine by Monique Fiso; Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists by Leonard Bell; and Nature — Stilled by Jane Ussher.
“The four finalists are standout examples of a dazzlingly broad range of passions, from the arts and sciences to food, adventure and the outdoors, distilled into beautiful and engaging works,” says category convenor Dale Cousens.
The 2021 General Non-Fiction category finalists are: Specimen: Personal Essays by Madison Hamill; Te Hāhi Mihinare |The Māori Anglican Church by Hirini Kaa; The Dark is Light Enough: Ralph Hotere A Biographical Portrait by Vincent O’Sullivan; and This Pākehā Life: An Unsettled Memoir by Alison Jones.
General Non-Fiction category convenor of judges Sarah Shieff says the finalists’ books are alive with the flows of history and power that shape all of our lives.
“These four books, each in its own way an extraordinary achievement in the category’s defining parameters of story-telling, research and memory work, will enrich the conversations we have about ourselves and this place for years to come,” says Dr Shieff.
New Zealand Book Awards Trust spokesperson Paula Morris says “I’m delighted to see such rich variety and high quality in every category, exploring so many aspects of our society, history and creativity.
“This year’s finalists also reveal finalists also reveal a shift in New Zealand writing and publishing, a deeper engagement with multicultural New Zealand. The poetry list alone includes work by Māori, Pasifika, Asian and Egyptian-born writers. There’s so much to celebrate here, and so much to discover.”
The winners of the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, including the four MitoQ Best First Book award winners, will be announced at a ceremony on 12 May as a public event during the 2021 Auckland Writers Festival.
The 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlisted titles are:
Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction
- Bug Week & Other Stories by Airini Beautrais (Victoria University Press)
- Nothing to See by Pip Adam (Victoria University Press)
- Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press)
- Sprigs by Brannavan Gnanalingam (Lawrence & Gibson)
Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry
- Funkhaus by Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press)
- Magnolia 木蘭by Nina Mingya Powles (Seraph Press)
- National Anthem by Mohamed Hassan (Dead Bird Books)
- The Savage Coloniser Book by Tusiata Avia (Victoria University Press)
- An Exquisite Legacy: The Life and Work of New Zealand Naturalist G.V. Hudson by George Gibbs (Potton & Burton)
- Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine by Monique Fiso (Godwit, Penguin Random House)
- Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists by Leonard Bell (Auckland University Press)
- Nature — Stilled by Jane Ussher (Te Papa Press)
General Non-Fiction Award
- Specimen: Personal Essays by Madison Hamill (Victoria University Press)
- Te Hāhi Mihinare |The Māori Anglican Church by Hirini Kaa (Bridget Williams Books)
- The Dark is Light Enough: Ralph Hotere A Biographical Portrait by Vincent O’Sullivan (Penguin, Penguin Random House)
- This Pākehā Life: An Unsettled Memoir by Alison Jones (Bridget Williams Books)
The General Non-Fiction, Poetry and Illustrated Non-Fiction category winners will each receive a $10,000 prize. The winners of the four MitoQ Best First Book awards will each receive $2,500.
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, MitoQ, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand and the Auckland Writers Festival.
Winners will be announces at the 12 May Awards event as part of the Auckland Writers Festival. Tickets on sale 12 March.