Catherine Chidgey has taken a big story that we all think we know and told a part of it from a fresh and personal perspective, making its content even more devastating. Her writing really is beautiful — lyrical, compelling and elegant — while the story, set in a dangerous time, catches the reader by surprise with its plumbing of depths and sudden moments of grace, beauty and light. It continually surprises and affirms our humanity.
Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize
The Wish Child
Love as a Stranger
An engaging and unusual exploration of late-middle-aged love. With clear, elegant writing Marshall exposes the various, sometimes incompatible, desires and needs of lover and beloved in a novel that moves, amuses and surprises. He captures the intense joys and pains of love, reminding us that fervent, uncontrollable emotions are not the preserve of teenagers, that love hurts, and that age and experience do not necessarily confer wisdom or clarity.
Emma Neale’s lyrical Billy Bird is charming, poignant and funny in almost equal parts. This is a startlingly recognisable tale of three people struggling with living after great loss, trying to hold their small family together as it threatens to splinter apart under the strain of a child who has forsaken problematic and imperfect humanity to become a bird. Firmly grounded in the landscapes and rhythms of Aotearoa New Zealand, this is an apparently quiet story that soars.
The Name on the Door is Not Mine
Sharp and cosmopolitan, C.K. Stead’s The Name on the Door Is Not Mine is a clever, wry and beautifully observed collection. Many of these striking stories, collected from over Stead’s long and storied career, and some of them new versions of earlier stories, offer glimpses of a writing life both in Aotearoa New Zealand and abroad, and suggest the work that goes into crafting such a life. These stories are themselves cleverly crafted and honed to seem deceptively simple and effortless.
Fale Aitu | Spirit House
This is an urgent, politicised collection, which finds eloquent ways to dramatise and speak out against horrors, injustices and abuses, both domestic and public. The poems are tough, sensuous, often unnerving. Prose poems, pantoums, short lyrics, list poems, hieratic invocations: the passionate voice holds all these together. We teleport between geographies and cultures, Samoa to Christchurch, Gaza to New York. The world we think we know is constantly made strange, yet disconcertingly familiar; the unfamiliar seems normal, close to home.
Hera Lindsay Bird
The twisty, aphoristic, wrong-footing poems in this striking debut collection play the deliberately crass off against the deliberately ornate: ‘Byron, Whitman, our dog crushed by a garage door / Finger me slowly / In the snowscape of your childhood’. Similes, once a poetic no-no, perform exuberant oxymorons and flamboyant non-sequiturs: ‘I write this poem like double-leopard print / Like an antique locket filled with pubic hair’. Bird’s poems readjust readers’ expectations of what poetry can do, how it might behave.
Fits & Starts
As the marvellously titled opening poem, ‘The Otorhinolaryngologist’, puts it, these poems ‘hunt for something / in the hollow spaces // in the voiceless spaces’. These spaces include: found material from ancestry.com, the thoughts of an Afghani, the books of the Old Testament, the myth of Echo, the radio alphabet. The reader is trusted to puzzle, to fit, to start all over again. This hugely impressive, challenging collection is scored through with a broken music that sings in the head.
This Paper Boat
This ambitious debut collection is built around slivers of life-narrative, principally drawn from the life of Iris Wilkinson (Robin Hyde) and — with moving laconic restraint — from the lives of the poet’s parents, before and after coming to New Zealand. These strands are made to intertwine with, and haunt, each other, not least through the evocation of various Chinese ghosts. The collection aches with bewildered loss, a sense of emotional loose ends and pasts only half-grasped.
Illustrated Non-Fiction Award
New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, the People
Proving that we do need another book about the extraordinary story of New Zealand wine, this handsome volume provides an absorbing narrative of space and place, as well as of the wines and their makers. Years of wide-ranging research and interaction with vintners is distilled into an engaging account, showing that land and people are as important as the vines. Stunning photographs, both historical and contemporary, and specially commissioned three-dimensional maps, bring winemaking to life in a compelling new way.
Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-1953
Weaving a compelling narrative from fragments discovered in manuscripts, letters, diaries and documents, Peter Simpson textures the tapestry of cultural life in Christchurch in the mid-twentieth century. Previously unknown poems, unfamiliar paintings and unseen photographs mined from archives illuminate the depths of relationships in the city of the plains. Vivid, supple prose shapes the personalities of leading lights of the theatrical, literary, artistic and publishing worlds, and persuades the reader of the significance of this brief constellation of characters.
A History of New Zealand Women
Putting women at the centre of our history, this sweeping survey shows exactly when, how and why gender mattered. It combines deep research, an immensely readable narrative, superbly well-integrated images and it is distinguished by close attention to both Maori and Pakeha women. General changes in each period are combined effortlessly with the particular, local stories of individual women, many not well-known. A wider sense of women’s experiences is beautifully conveyed by the many well-captioned artworks, photographs, texts and objects.
Ann Shelton: Dark Matter
More than just a catalogue to accompany the artist’s retrospective exhibition, this exquisitely designed compilation brings 15 bodies of work together in one place for the first time. Outstanding scholars provide illuminating insights into key themes in the photographer’s work in a clear, readable style. Every aspect of the design of the publication — the slip-cased format, typography and layout — complements the rich and fascinating narratives evoked by the images themselves. This is a book of enduring quality, flawlessly produced.
Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction
Can You Tolerate This?
Ashleigh Young – poet, editor and author – is a pioneer, and Can You Tolerate This? carves out a new space in New Zealand writing. It takes readers from Young’s inner life to the imagined lives of others, from places real to places where you’re not quite sure, from one moment in time to moments where time stops. Young is bringing the personal essay to New Zealand, and she does so with humour, humility and stylish prose. The rhetorical question in the title can have only one answer – a resounding yes.
This Model World: Travels to the Edge of Contemporary Art
A narrative of people, places and memorable experiences as much as one of paintings, prize-winning installations and glamorous career trajectories, this book is a travelogue connecting names and sites in the history of New Zealand art. It is driven by a constant press of stories and by what artist Shane Cotton calls ‘the idea of stories’. Ghosts, disappearances, transitions and different ways of being are pursued and linked to elsewhere in thoughtful, beautiful prose. Working backwards and then forwards, Byrt negotiates the practices of contemporary artists and makes us see the ways in which they contribute to international conversations.
The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities 1840-1920
The first-ever long-range overview of our cities’ evolution, this book captures the restless shaping and moulding that defines who we are as a nation and how we came to be. Ben Schrader’s ideas are original and myth-busting, and he makes us see our cities afresh with a kind of double vision, the past and the present colliding. Given that 86 per cent of New Zealand’s population lives in cities, this research and reflection is a timely and important contribution to our social, cultural and environmental history.
My Father’s Island
Adam Dudding’s writing is personal, insightful and enthralling. My Father’s Island brings readers uncomfortably close to memories of joy, tension and mystery — a testament to Dudding’s skill as a prose stylist and a storyteller. Yet the book is more than its aesthetics; it’s also an important piece of cultural history, with Dudding approaching his subject, his father Robin Dudding, as only a journalist would and could. Yet My Father’s Island remains, above all, a memoir.