Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2024 - Winners' Announcement

Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2024 Winners’ Announcement

‘Disturbing, smart, and funny as hell’ novel wins country’s richest writing prize

Internationally acclaimed New Zealand writer Emily Perkins MNZM has won the $65,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2024 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for Lioness – a smart, multi-layered, laugh-out-loud novel exploring wealth, class and female mid-life reckoning.

Ms Perkins received the award ahead of Booker-Prize winning author and screenwriter Eleanor Catton (Birnam Wood); and Pip Adam (Audition) and Stephen Daisley (A Better Place) – both previous winners of the Acorn Prize for Fiction.

Published by Bloomsbury UK, Wellington resident Emily Perkins last won New Zealand’s top fiction prize in 2009 with Novel About My Wife.

The Fiction category’s convenor of judges, Juliet Blyth, says Lioness is a searing and urgent novel crackling with tension and intelligence.

“Lioness starts with a hiss and ends with a roar as protagonist Therese’s dawning awareness and growing rage reveals itself. At first glance this is a psychological thriller about a privileged, wealthy family and its unravelling. Look closer and it is an incisive exploration of wealth, power, class, female rage, and the search for authenticity.

“Emily Perkins deftly wrangles a large cast of characters in vivid technicolour, giving each their moment in the sun while dexterously weaving together multiple plotlines. Her acute observations and razor-sharp wit decimate the tropes of mid-life in moments of pure prose brilliance, leaving the reader gasping for more.

“Disturbing, deep, smart, and funny as hell, Lioness is unforgettable.”

Christchurch-raised poet, writer and academic Grace Yee has won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her first collection: Chinese Fish (Giramondo Publishing).

The award marks a great year for Ms Yee, who now lives in Melbourne and won both the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature – the first poet to do so in more than a decade – and the $25,000 poetry category for Chinese Fish at the 2024 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

Ockhams Poetry category convenor Erik Kennedy says Chinese Fish blurs genres, dances around the page and crosses languages by fusing Cantonese-Taishanese and English, both official and unofficial.

“Yee’s craft is remarkable,” he says. “She moves between old newspaper cuttings, advertisements, letters, recipes, cultural theory, and dialogue. Creating a new archival poetics for the Chinese trans-Tasman diaspora, the sequence narrates a Hong Kong family’s assimilation into New Zealand life from the 1960s to the 1980s, interrogating ideas of citizenship and national identity.

“It displaces the reader, evoking the unsettledness of migration. In Chinese Fish, Yee cooks up a rich variety of poetic material into a book that is special and strange; this is poetry at its urgent and thrilling best.”

Writer, poet, artist and curator Gregory O’Brien MNZM has won the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction for Don Binney: Flight Path (Auckland University Press).

Category convenor Lynn Freeman says even as an experienced biographer, Gregory O’Brien has achieved a near impossible task in Don Binney: Flight Path.

“He has encapsulated the artist’s full life, honestly portraying his often contrary personality, and carefully interrogating a formidably large body of work and its place in Aotearoa New Zealand’s art history.

“O’Brien’s respect for Binney includes acknowledging that he could be both charming and curmudgeonly, and as a result he offers a complete picture of this complex and creative man. Equally compelling are the book’s faithfully reproduced artworks, exemplifying the best in design, layout and reproduction.

“From the cover onwards, the images of the paintings take us to the place where Binney observed the land and the birds, capturing the qualities of whenua that meant so much to him,” she says.

Auckland University of Technology vice chancellor, interdisciplinary scholar and critically acclaimed author Damon Salesa has won the General Non-Fiction Award for his work, An Indigenous Ocean: Pacific Essays (Bridget Williams Books).

Category convenor of judges Jim Tully ONZM says Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa’s seminal work asserts the Pacific’s ongoing impact worldwide, despite marginalisation by New Zealand and others, and will maintain its relevance for generations.

An Indigenous Ocean weaves together academic rigour, captivating stories and engaging prose to reframe our understanding of New Zealand’s colonial history in the South Pacific,” he says.

“This scholarly but highly accessible collection of essays carves out space for indigenous voices to tell their own narratives. Grounded in a deep understanding of Pacific history and cultures, Salesa addresses the contemporary social, political, economic, regional and international issues faced by Pacific nations.”

Esteemed academic, Waitangi Tribunal member, and Kīngi Tūheitia's ‘Council of Twelve’ member Tā Pou Temara KNZM (Ngāi Tūhoe) was presented with the 2024 Te Mūrau o te Tuhi Māori Language Award for Te Rautakitahi O Tūhoe ki Ōrākau(Auckland University Press).

Judge Paraone Gloyne (Raukawa ki Wharepūhunga, Ngāti Maniapoto) says the book is a valuable account exploring the big questions about the Tūhoe men and women who went to fight with Ngāti Maniapoto in the battle of Ōrākau during the New Zealand Wars.

Raised in Ruatāhuna, where most of the Tūhoe who went to Ōrākau came from, Tā Pou offers a unique insight of this key episode, written entirely in te reo Māori. Te Rautakitahi O Tūhoe ki Ōrākau is a rare, vividly executed and deeply considered book based on oral sources through the stories told to Tā Pou by his grandfather, great-grandmother and other kuia and koroua when he was young.

“Aotearoa is fortunate to have in its canon a book of this significance written by one of Aotearoa’s leading Māori public intellectuals,” says Mr Gloyne.

The Poetry, Illustrated Non-Fiction, General Non-Fiction and Te Mūrau o te Tuhi category award recipients were each presented with $12,000 in prize money.

Four Best First Book Awards, sponsored by the Mātātuhi Foundation, were also presented at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards ceremony.

Hubert Church Prize for Fiction

Ruin and Other Stories byEmma Hislop (Kāi Tahu) (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Jessie Mackay Prize for Poetry

At the Point of Seeing byMegan Kitching (Otago University Press)

Judith Binney Prize for Illustrated Non-Fiction

Rugby League in New Zealand: A People’s History byRyan Bodman (Bridget Williams Books)

E.H. McCormick Prize for General Non-Fiction

There’s a Cure for ThisbyEmma Wehipeihana (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou) (Penguin Random House)

Each Mātātuhi Foundation Best First Book Award winner received $3000 and a 12-month membership subscription to the New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa.

New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa chair Nicola Legat says this year’s winners fully demonstrate the relevance of books to the issues of our times.

“Drawn from an extraordinary group of shortlisted titles in a very competitive year, all these books truly deserve the honours bestowed on them. They are by turns witty, timely, insightful, searing, scholarly, political and loving. They have each, in their own way, moved the dial.

“The Trust congratulates the publishers of these impressive and beautifully produced titles,” she says.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by Ockham Residential, Creative New Zealand, the late Jann Medlicott and the Acorn Foundation, Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand, the Mātātuhi Foundation, and the Auckland Writers Festival.

The awards ceremony was hosted at the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre in Aotea Centre, as part of the 2024 Auckland Writers Festival programme.

To find out more about the winners’ titles go to