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Lowdown: Contenders Named For Coveted $65,000 Prize

01 Feb 2024

Heavyweights and rookies are battling each other for some of the highest honours in NZ literature, while artistic powerhouses are farewelled & creative opportunities welcomed.

From newbie authors to our literary glitterati - it's a big day for many writers and publishers with the announcement of the 2024 Ockham NZ Book Awards long list.

12 of the 44 longlisted booked come from first-time authors (a pretty astonishing feat) while the 20 individual publishing houses involved is a record. All up, an impressive 171 entries across the four categories.

New Zealand Book Awards Trust chair Nicola Legat credits the willingness of publishers to take risks and back their writers for the talent on this year's list.

“It’s a thrill to read this longlist and see both the high number of first-time writers, represented in every category and the spread across a very wide group of publishers. 

"A powerful and impressive list studded with books that entertain readers and offer important insights into our world has been put before our judges for consideration.” 

There's also plenty of flex from some of Aotearoa's most recognised and popular authors.

In the richest prize in NZ literature, there are some familiar names in the running for the prestigious Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction.

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2023 winner Catherine Chidgey will be considered a good chance to go back to back - with her 2024 nomination Pet already drawing plenty of plaudits.  Fellow former winners  Stephen Daisley (A Better Place), Pip Adam (Audition), Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton (Birnam Wood) and Emily Perkins (Lioness)  are all in the hunt again, along with Anna Smaill (Bird Life), Amy Head (Signs of Life) and Tīhema Baker (Turncoat).

Emma Ling Sidnam and Emma Hislop are the debut authors in the mix for the $65,000 winners prize - for Backwaters and Ruin and Other Stories respectively.

Former bookseller Juliet Blyth, WORD Christchurch's curator Kiran Dass and fiction writer Anthony Lapwood will decide the overall winner, along with an international judge.

All the longlist contenders in the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry ($12,000) will be sharing space with one of Aotearoa's finest and most celebrated poets - former winner Tusiata Avia will be a favourite to make the final four for Big Fat Brown Bitch her much-feted follow up to The Savage Coloniser Book

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Multi-talented creative force Ruby Solly has been put forward for The Artist, along with decorated former Poet Laureate C.K Stead (Say I Do This: Poems 2018–2022) first-time authors Megan Kitching (At the Point of Seeing), Grace Yee (Chinese Fish) and Isla Huia (Talia) will compete against Claudia Jardine (Biter), Jane Arthur (Calamities!), Bill Nelson (Root Leaf Flower Fruit),  Rushi Vyas (When I Reach for Your Pulse).

Judging the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry will be poet, critic and editor Erik Kennedy, poet and performance writer Tru Paraha and author, editor and university lecturer Dougal McNeill.

In the running for Illustrated Non-Fiction Prize ($12,000) are Don Binney: Flight Path by Gregory O’Brien, Flora: Celebrating our Botanical World edited by Carlos Lehnebach, Claire Regnault, Rebecca Rice, Isaac Te Awa and Rachel Yates, Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager's Field Guide by first time longlister Liv Sisson, Marilynn Webb: Folded in the Hills by Lauren Gutsell, Lucy Hammonds and Bridget Reweti, Ngā Kaihanga Uku: Māori Clay Artists by debut author Baye Riddell, Our Land in Colour: A History of Aotearoa New Zealand 1860-1960 by Brendan Graham with Jock Phillips, Pacific Arts Aotearoa edited by Lana Lopesi, Rugby League in New Zealand: A People’s History by Ryan Bodman in his first attempt, Sure to Rise: The Edmonds Story by Peter Alsop, Kate Parsonson and Richard Wolfe and Through Shaded Glass: Women and Photography in Aotearoa New Zealand 1860-1960 by Lissa Mitchell.

This year the General Non-Fiction judges have again taken advantage of their discretion to increase their longlist to 14 titles, an invitation introduced for the first time in 2023 to reflect the greater number of entries and range of genres in this category.

In the running for the $12,000 prize are first-time authors Olive Jones (Commune: Chasing a Utopian Dream in Aotearoa), Catherine Comyn (The Financial Colonisation of Aotearoa) and Emma Wehipeihana (as Emma Espiner) with There’s a Cure for This.

Damon Salesa is up for An Indigenous Ocean: Pacific Essays, along with Blood and Dirt: Prison Labour and the Making of New Zealand by Jared Davidson, End Times by Rebecca Priestley, Guyon Espiner with The Drinking Game, Laughing at the Dark: A Memoir by Barbara Else, Ngātokimatawhaorua: The Biography of a Waka by Jeff Evans, Ora: Healing Ourselves – Indigenous Knowledge, Healing and Wellbeing edited by Leonie Pihama and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Snorkelling the Abyss: One Woman, Striving to Survive, Fighting for Survivors by Jan Jordan \
Soundings: Diving for Stories in the Beckoning Sea by Kennedy Warne, Takahē: Bird of Dreams by Alison Ballance and The Forgotten Prophet: Tāmati Te Ito and His Kaingārara Movement by Jeffrey Sissons 

The Ockhams shortlist of 16 titles (four books in each category) will be announced on 6 March. The winners, including the four Mātātuhi Foundation Best First Book Awards recipients, will be announced at a public ceremony on 15 May during the 2024 Auckland Writers Festival. 

Huge contributions remembered & mourned

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Selwyn Muru (left) and Warren Viscoe (right).

2024 may only be a month old, but we've already farewelled some much-loved Aotearoa creatives.

The loss of Māori artist and broadcaster Selwyn Muru at the age of 86 has led to many tributes ahead of his tangi earlier this week.

Muru - who counts Arts Icon and just-named Venice Biennale artist Fred Graham among his teachers - built an incredible legacy of respect and admiration for a full creative life that included painting, sculpture, journalism, broadcasting, directing, acting, set design, theatre and poetry.

Anyone who has walked through the carved arch at Auckland's Aotea Square has experienced his mastery - Waharoa was installed in 1990 and is still iconic in Tāmaki Makaurau to this day.

He memorably was awarded Te Waka Toi's Te Tohu mō Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu Award for his contributions to Māori visual art, broadcasting, journalism and whaikōrero.

There's been much love and remembrance of Warren Viscoe as well - after he passed away last week.

An artist, sculptor and teacher of high regard, Viscoe left a huge impact on those he shared his craft with - after transitioning from a carpentry career into art and studying in London and Canada before bringing his talents back home in 1962 and graduating from Elam School of Fine Arts three years later.

His work has been admired across the country since, including a survey exhibition at the Dowse in 1997.

Tāwhiri goes Green

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Angela Green. Photo: Andi Crown.

After a five-month audition, Angela Green has locked in one of the top creatives gigs in the capital.

Serving as an interim Executive Director of Tāwhiri - the organisation that oversees e Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts, Wellington Jazz Festival, Lexus Song Quest, Te Hui Ahurei Reo Māori o Te Whanganui-a-Tara and other events - since Meg Williams moved on to helm World of WearableArt in August, Green has been handed the role full time.

With a CV that includes key roles at Wellington's Downstage Theatre, Tāmaki Makaurau's Q Theatre, Auckland Arts Festival and the last five years as Tāwhiri's Head of Programming / Deputy Executive Director - the Toi Whakaari graduate has more than proven her worth over the past two decades.  

Green states “The New Zealand Festival made a huge impact on me personally and professionally since moving to Wellington in 2000.  I carry and treasure over 20 years of guidance by some of the industry's best minds and mentors who stand with me.

“In Te-Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, we are fortunate to be part of a city whose people champion creativity, attending the many performances, events, and exhibitions. I am excited to continue Tāwhiri’s role in supporting and presenting artists and experiences that inspire, uplift and expand our horizons.”

Green won't have much time to celebrate losing 'interim' off the job title, with the 2024 Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts programme kicking off 23 February-17 March.  

Culture kicking into gear

The start of February has plenty of exciting openings on the horizon - starting with Auckland Pride kicking off today (1 February) and running til the end of the month.

It's the first Festival under new Director Julia Croft - stepping into the role after the departure of Max Tweedie.

There's also new ground being broken in Kirikiriroa - with the first Boon Sculpture trail opening on Saturday (3 February) and running through until 31 March.

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Toipoto artist Julia Moselen with her Boon Sculpture Trail work. Photo: Instagram.

It's put together by Hamilton Arts Trust who have become quite prolific in the 'Tron with the Boon Street Art Festival, Boon After Dark and more over the last several years..

The Trail comprises of 23 temporary outdoor sculptures from 26 artists - including virtual and performance pieces - spread over eight public sites.

With the Hamilton Arts Festival also due to kick off later in the month (23 February- 3 March) and a number of participating galleries - Hamilton's going to be a haven for arts lovers in the coming weeks.

Nancy Caiger, the sculpture trail’s founder, highlights “We are the only sculpture trail in Aotearoa New Zealand to offer free tours, in six different languages: English, Te Reo Māori, New Zealand Sign Language, Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic.”

And with Waitangi Day fast approaching, there will be plenty of cultural celebrations and events across the motu to put the spotlight on the culture and creativity that is indigenous to Aotearoa.

35 different community events have been backed by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage's Commemorating Waitangi Day Fund, designed to increase awareness and knowledge of the Treaty through celebrations and local storytelling.

MCH Chief Executive Leauanae Laulu Mac Leauanae says they range from Northland all the way to Otago.

"Waitangi Day is a time to reflect on the founding document that affects all people who choose to call New Zealand home and reminds us to think about our future together. These funded events will not only bring people together on Waitangi Day, but they will also highlight local histories and recognise the relationship between the Crown and Māori.

"The Fund supports a free public commemoration at Kawatea Okains Bay in Canterbury, jointly hosted by Te Rūnanga o Koukourarata and Okains Bay Museum, to celebrate our bicultural heritage. A Ngāti Huikai-led pōwhiri will open the event which includes museum exhibits, heritage displays and entertainment for children.

"On the Kapiti Coast in Wellington, Whakarongtoai Marae will host a free public event to celebrate Māori, European and other nationalities that form the fabric of the Coast today, with education and entertainment for all ages and a multicultural focus.

"In Kaipara, Northland a free family day will be held at the Community Gardens in Tunatahi with Waka Ama, stalls, live music, cultural performances and guest speakers talking about Te Tiriti, He Whakaputanga (the Declaration of Independence) and the local history."

Moana magic

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Ladi6, Aaradhna, Brandon Haru, Deva Mahal and Lance Fepuleai. Photos: Supplied.

Ladi6 has been showered with accolades and recognition in recent times - now she's the one giving out the creative love.

NZ’s celebrated queen of hip-hop and Arts Laureate is the curator of the inaugural Moana Songhubs opportunity for 10 songwriters and 5 producers (who are APRA members) to learn from some of the best in the business in Auckland on 15-19 April.

Applications have just opened today for the 4-day songwriting program, where Ladi6 assigns participants with a different group of guest writers, a producer, a 'lead' songwriter and one other songwriter. These groups will each inhabit a separate studio space for the day.

Each songwriter will get the opportunity to be a 'lead' songwriter at least once and will work with different guests during the week.

The list of guest writers has been confirmed as well, comprising of highly respected R&B singer Aaradhna, multi-instrumentalist and award-winning producer Brandon Haru, internationally experienced performer Deva Mahal and Lance Fepuleai aka Lucky Lance from hip-hop trio Team Dynamite.