2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlist announced


Bestselling books by both debut writers and established literary luminaries feature among the 16 finalists in the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards announced today.

The shortlist - selected from a longlist of 44 books by four panels of specialist judges (for fiction, poetry, illustrated non-fiction and general non-fiction - offers entertaining and enriching reading experiences that traverse Aotearoa's cultural and physical landscapes, revealing relationships and deepening our understanding of the world.

Stephanie Johnson, convenor of judges for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, says the finalists in this category vividly demonstrate the excellent quality of a wide variety of work produced in the last year.

“Two stellar historical novels rival for their portrayal of lost worlds, one set in eighteenth-century Aotearoa, the other on a nineteenth-century sub-Antarctic island. And in the other two finalists, contemporary New Zealand, urban and rural, is vividly and memorably evoked in tightly written crime and through the eyes of a wild but insightful bird.”

British writer, publisher and host of the books podcast Backlisted, John Mitchinson, will assist the three New Zealand judges to select the fiction winner.

Diane Brown, convenor of judges for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry, says the category finalists all portray a precarious world where nothing can be taken for granted.

“The turbulent events of the last few years are reflected in the four finalists’ collections, with poets interrogating language, racism, sexism, climate change and systems. These tensions are often reflected in poetic forms, long lines with fractured spaces dismantling the barrier between prose and poetry. In particular, we were drawn to collections that posited urgent and challenging questions which aroused imagination and engagement, and demanded we listen.”

Jared Davidson,convenor of judges for the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction, says the innovative design and compelling storytelling found in this year’s shortlist have redefined what an illustrated non-fiction work can be.

“Zine-like textures on uncoated stock, elegant typography across space and time, treasure-troves of littoral illustrations and taonga tuku iho that give voice to their travels are signs of a confident moment in book production. Nothing here is pretty-for-pretty’s sake: visual excellence amplifies the immensely relevant and engaging content of these original books.”

Anna Rawhiti-Connell, convenor of judges for the General Non-Fiction Award, says the diversity of form in the shortlist showcases the breadth of non-fiction writing in New Zealand, and a mastery of craft.

“Each finalist offers an evolution and an innovation – whether it be in form and style, command of language and story-telling or in what they contribute to our shared knowledge and understanding of ourselves and each other. They are all books people should read, and importantly, they are books that fulfil the promise of reward for doing so.”

The 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlisted titles are:

*represents debut authors

Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction

  • Better the Blood by Michael Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) (Simon & Schuster)
  • Kāwai: For Such a Time as This by Monty Soutar (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, Ngāti Kahungunu) (Bateman Books)
  • Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant by Cristina Sanders (The Cuba Press)
  • The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry

  • Always Italicise: How to Write While Colonised by Alice Te Punga Somerville (Te Āti Awa, Taranaki) (Auckland University Press)
  • People Person by Joanna Cho (Te Herenga Waka University Press)*
  • Sedition by Anahera Maire Gildea (Ngāti Tukorehe) (Taraheke | Bush Lawyer)*
  • We’re All Made of Lightning by Khadro Mohamed (We Are Babies Press, Tender Press)*

Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction

  • Jumping Sundays: The Rise and Fall of the Counterculture in Aotearoa New Zealand by Nick Bollinger (Auckland University Press)
  • Robin White: Something is Happening Here edited by Sarah Farrar, Jill Trevelyan and Nina Tonga (Te Papa Press and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki)
  • Secrets of the Sea: The Story of New Zealand’s Native Sea Creatures by Robert Vennell (HarperCollins)
  • Te Motunui Epa by Rachel Buchanan (Taranaki, Te Ātiawa) (Bridget Williams Books)

General Non-Fiction Award

  • A Fire in the Belly of Hineāmaru: A Collection of Narratives about Te Tai Tokerau Tūpuna by Melinda Webber (Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whakaue) and Te Kapua O’Connor (Ngāti Kurī, Pohūtiare) (Auckland University Press)
  • Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay by Paul Diamond (Ngāti Hauā, Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) (Massey University Press)
  • Grand: Becoming my Mother’s Daughter by Noelle McCarthy (Penguin, Penguin Random House)*
  • The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi by Ned Fletcher (Bridget Williams Books)*

New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa spokesperson Jenna Todd says this year’s shortlist is a treasure trove to celebrate.

“There is not one dominating publisher this year, with a range of 12 publishers shortlisted across 16 titles.

“Many of these books, across all categories, delve deeply into strong personal narratives. They offer tales of tension, distrust and revenge, treating readers to vivid explorations of aspects of Aotearoa’s history.

“Subjects and characters are treated with the utmost of care, critical thought, and examination.

“This group of writers, both venerated and emerging, steers you towards laughter, wonder and new knowledge.”

The 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards’ winners, including four Best First Book Awards recipients which are this year supported by the Mātātuhi Foundation, will be announced at a public ceremony on 17 May during the 2023 Auckland Writers Festival.

The winner of the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction will receive $64,000 in 2023 and each of the other main category prizes will earn their winners $12,000 (up from $10,000 in recent years). Each of the Best First Book winners, for fiction, poetry, general non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction, will be awarded $3000 (up from $2500).

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, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand, the Mātātuhi Foundation, and the Auckland Writers Festival.

To find out more about the shortlisted titles go to