Book Awards Celebrate 50th Anniversary with Stellar Finalist Line-up

New Zealand’s premier literary awards celebrate their 50th anniversary with a rich collection of 16 finalist books by both lauded established writers and emerging stars.

Announced today, the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalists join a literary hall of fame that dates back to 1968 and features New Zealand’s most famous and distinguished writers.

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

New Zealand Book Awards Trust chair Nicola Legat says this year’s shortlist demonstrates the diversity, depth and skill of New Zealand writers.

“These books reflect who we are as people and how we are developing as a nation, demonstrating that the writer’s role is as important now as it was half a century ago. Like many of the books nominated in previous years’ awards, the cream of this year’s crop are destined to become classics.”

In the contest for the $50,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, University of Canterbury Professor of English Patrick Evans’ novel Salt Picnic vies with debut writer Annaleese Jochems’ Baby, Wellington lawyer Brannavan Gnanalingam’s Sodden Downstream, and novelist and creative writing teacher Pip Adam’s The New Animals. “We have selected four novels that directly confront and ask questions of both the world and the reader,” says the category judging convenor Jenna Todd. “These authors are pushing at the edges of what is possible in fiction in a style that’s both engaging and brave.”

The finalists in the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction category are renowned historian and anthropologist Dame Anne Salmond for Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds; journalist Diana Wichtel for her debut book Driving to Treblinka: A Long Search for a Lost Father; Massey University Professor of History Michael Belgrave for Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country 1864-1885, and cartoonist Tom Scott for his memoir Drawn Out.

General Non-Fiction category convenor Ella Henry says there was a high degree of unanimity among the judges about these four books. “One book made me laugh, one made me cry, one reminded me of New Zealand’s complex history, and the other gave me great hope about the future of our nation.”

Matariki Williams, convenor of the Illustrated Non-Fiction Award category judging panel, says that evocative language interwoven with a remarkable range of imagery gave the category’s finalists a lasting impact. They are: Tuai: A Traveller in Two Worlds by Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins; Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History by Philip Simpson; Gordon Walters: New Vision by Zara Stanhope (commissioning editor), Lucy Hammonds, Laurence Simmons and Julia Waite, and The Face of Nature: An Environmental History of the Otago Peninsula by Jonathan West.

“These books, each of which was multi-layered in approach and execution, showcased the rich social, cultural, material and environmental history that has shaped Aotearoa. They were not just beautiful to look at but they were also all a joy to read,” says Ms Williams.

Collections by four acclaimed established poets comprise this year’s Poetry Award shortlist. They are Anchor Stone by Tony Beyer, Night Horse by Elizabeth Smither, Rāwāhi by Briar Wood, and The Yield by Sue Wootton.

Poetry category convenor Robert Sullivan says it was an excellent year for poetry. These shortlisted books are thoughtful, luminous, both precisely and generously descriptive of emotion and intellect, delighting in the dance of language. These lyrical poets channel fine depths to lift up poems as lights,” says Mr Sullivan.

The 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards finalist titles are:

Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize:

  • The New Animals by Pip Adam (Victoria University Press)
  • Salt Picnic by Patrick Evans (Victoria University Press)
  • Sodden Downstream by Brannavan Gnanalingam (Lawrence & Gibson)
  • Baby by Annaleese Jochems (Victoria University Press)

Poetry Award:

  • Anchor Stone by Tony Beyer (Cold Hub Press)
  • Night Horse by Elizabeth Smither (Auckland University Press)
  • Rāwāhi by Briar Wood (Anahera Press)
  • The Yield by Sue Wootton (Otago University Press)

Illustrated Non-Fiction Award:

  • Tuai: A Traveller in Two Worlds by Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins (Bridget Williams Books)
  • Tōtara: A Natural and Cultural History by Philip Simpson (Auckland University Press)
  • Gordon Walters: New Vision by Zara Stanhope (commissioning editor), Lucy Hammonds, Laurence Simmons, Julia Waite (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Dunedin Public Art Gallery)
  • The Face of Nature: An Environmental History of the Otago Peninsula by Jonathan West (Otago University Press)

Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non Fiction:

  • Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885 by Michael Belgrave (Auckland University Press)
  • Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds by Anne Salmond (Auckland University Press)
  • Drawn Out: A Seriously Funny Memoir by Tom Scott (Allen & Unwin NZ)
  • Driving to Treblinka: A Long Search for a Lost Father by Diana Wichtel (Awa Press)

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on May 15 2018, held as the first public event of the Auckland Writers Festival.

To find out more about the shortlisted titles go to

For interview opportunities, images and further information please contact: Penny Hartill, director, hPR 09 445 7525, 021 721 424,


Editor’s Notes:

The 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards judges are: Poet and novelist Alison Wong, poet Robert Sullivan, deputy chief executive, Māori, at Manukau Institute of Technology, and poet, publisher and librettist Michael Harlow (Poetry category); Ella Henry, a lecturer in AUT’s Māori Faculty, editor and award-winning journalist Toby Manhire and former bookseller and publisher, Philip King (Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction category); Barbara Brookes, whose A History of New Zealand Women won this category of the awards in 2017, Matariki Williams, (Tūhoe, Taranaki, Ngāti Hauiti, Ngāti Whakaue), a curator Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa and Kim Paton, director of the public gallery Objectspace (Illustrated Non-Fiction category) and poet and academic Anna Smaill, journalist and reviewer Philip Matthews, and bookseller and reviewer Jenna Todd of the Auckland bookshop Time Out (Fiction category).

Glasgow-based writer, journalist and founding editor of the Scottish Review of Books Alan Taylor joins the New Zealand judging team in selecting the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize winner.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are the country’s premier literary honours for books written by New Zealanders. First established in 1968 as the Wattie Book Awards (later the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards), they have also been known as the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the New Zealand Post Book Awards. Awards are given for Fiction (the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize), General Non-Fiction (the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction), Illustrated Non-Fiction and Poetry. There are also four Best First Book Awards and, at the judges’ discretion, a Māori Language Award. The awards are governed by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust (a registered charity). Members of the Trust are Nicola Legat, Karen Ferns, Paula Morris, Catherine Robertson, Rachel Eadie, David Bowles, Pene Walsh and Melanee Winder. Creative New Zealand is a significant annual funder of the awards. The Trust also governs the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day.

Ockham Residential Group is Auckland’s most progressive developer. Founded in 2009 by Mark Todd and Ben Preston, Ockham describes itself as an urban regenerator, a company that loves Auckland. Ockham wants to see Auckland’s built environment become as beautiful and as world-class as its natural landscape. The business has ambitions wider than profitability, and has also established the Ockham Foundation. The Ockham Foundation aims to promote original thinking and critical thought — two key elements of widening the public discourse — via educational initiatives. It works with the University of Auckland to fund First Foundation Scholars studying science, and is a major sponsor to Ngā Rangatahi Toa, a charity transforming the lives of Rangatahi excluded from education.

The Acorn Foundation is a community foundation based in the Western Bay of Plenty, which encourages people to leave a gift in their wills and/or their lifetimes to support their local community forever. Donations are pooled and invested, and the investment income is used to make donations to local charities, in accordance with the donors’ wishes. The capital remains intact. Since it was established in 2003, Acorn has distributed over $4.6 million. Donors may choose which organisations are to benefit each year, or they may decide to leave it to the trustees’ discretion. Community foundations are the fastest growing form of philanthropy worldwide, and there are now 15 throughout New Zealand, with more in the early stages. The Book Awards’ $50,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize has been provided through the generosity of one of the Foundation’s donors, and will be awarded to the top fiction work each year, in perpetuity.

Royal Society Te Apārangi is an independent not-for-profit organisation that supports all New Zealanders to explore, discover and share knowledge. Its varied programmes provide funding and learning opportunities for researchers, teachers, school students, together with those who are simply curious about the world. To celebrate the discoveries of New Zealand researchers, the Society awards medals and elects Fellows, who are leaders in their fields. These experts help the Society to provide independent advice to New Zealanders and the government on issues of public concern. The Society has a broad network of members and friends around New Zealand and invites all those who value the work New Zealanders do in exploring, discovering and sharing knowledge to join with them.

Creative New Zealand has been a sustaining partner of New Zealand’s book awards for decades. Creative New Zealand encourages, promotes and supports the arts in New Zealand for the benefit of all New Zealanders through funding, capability building, an international programme, and advocacy. It offers financial support for emerging and established artists, art practitioners, groups and organisations, and provides training and online resources to help artists and practitioners develop professionally, grow audiences and markets, and manage their organisations. It also supports internships and national touring to help develop New Zealand arts. Creative New Zealand provides a wide range of support to New Zealand literature, including funding for writers and publishers, residencies, literary festivals and awards, and supports organisations which work to increase the readership and sales of New Zealand literature at home and internationally.

Book Tokens (NZ) Ltd underwrites the sale of book tokens within New Zealand. It is administered by Booksellers New Zealand.

The Auckland Writers Festival is the largest literary event in New Zealand and the largest presenter of New Zealand literature in the world. Now in its 18th year, it hosts more than 200 local and international writers for six days of discussion, conversation, reading, debate, performance, schools, family and free events ranging across fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, theatre, culture, art and more. Festival attendance in 2017 exceeded 73,000.