12 May 2020

Debut novelist wins country’s richest literary prize

From Upbeat, 8:00 pm on 12 May 2020

Becky Manawatu has won the top prize at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards – the $55,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction for her first novel Auē (Mākaro Press).

Becky Manawatu

Becky Manawatu Photo: supplied

Her win was announced during a virtual ceremony which was live-streamed via YouTube and Facebook. 

Manawatu’s raw and compelling story about two orphaned boys is dedicated to her cousin Glen Bo Duggan, who was murdered when he was 10 years old. Becky was 11 at the time.

"I started writing when I was such a young age because of the hurt I was feeling after his death,” she says. “He was like a brother and a friend and when we lost him it was heart breaking; but this not his story, it’s fiction.”     

Manawatu ((Ngāi Tahu) works as a reporter for The News in Westport and was competing against established writers: Owen Marshall (Pearly Gates), Carl Shuker (A Mistake) and David Vann (Halibut on the Moon).

Becky Manawatu will be one of the three authors appearing in AWFs Winter Series this weekend. The event will be available to watch from 9-10am Sunday 17 May here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jt9gEDtFd0

Shayne Carter of former Dunedin band Straitjacket Fits and Dimmer took out the General Non-Fiction Award for his book Dead People I Have Known (Victoria University Press) which the category judges described as “rock-star writing: entertaining, revealing and incredibly heartfelt.”  

Shayne Carter

Shayne Carter Photo: Ebony Lamb Photography

Carter’s book was also inspired by his youth, in his case a childhood shaped by violence and addiction, and the story of a boy who didn’t fit in and felt saved by music.

Protest Tautohetohe by Stephanie Gibson, Matariki WIlliams and Puawai Cairns

Protest Tautohetohe by Stephanie Gibson, Matariki WIlliams and Puawai Cairns Photo: Te Papa Press

The Illustrated Non-Fiction Award has been won by Te Papa curators Stephanie Gibson, Matariki WIlliams and Puawai Cairns for their book Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance (Te Papa Press). 

It features a collection of objects related to protest movements throughout the country's history that have somehow ended up in the collections of museums.

The category judges said this book stood out for “not only achieving excellence in writing, illustration and design, but also – crucially – tackling a vast and significant topic worthy of these urgent times.”

Wellington writer, editor and publisher Helen Rickerby won the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her collection How to Live (Auckland University Press).

Helen Rickerby

Helen Rickerby Photo: Auckland University Press

The category judges said “How to Live names, excavates and exhumes both silenced and previously muffled women: it doesn’t back down from a societal lesson that, unfortunately, still needs repeating, and often.”

The General Non-Fiction, Poetry and Illustrated Non-Fiction category winners each took home a $10,000 prize.

Four MitoQ Best First Book Awards were also presented at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Becky Manawatu also won The Hubert Church Prize for a best first book of Fiction for Auē (Mākaro Press).

Shayne Carter also won the E.H. McCormick Prize for a best first work of General Non-Fiction for Dead People I Have Known (Victoria University Press).  

Jane Arthur won the Jessie Mackay Prize for Best First Book of Poetry for Craven (Victoria University Press). 

Jane said that she was surprised to win with so many great debut poetry collections in the last year. She says being an award for a first book implies there will be a second at some stage so she sees it as very encouraging.

Chris McDowall and Tim Denee​ won the Best First Book of Illustration Non Fiction award for We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa (Massey University Press). 

Chris joked to the online audience that he’s not sure this was a great project for a first book, but that they were very happy to accept the award.

We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa by Chris McDowall and Tim Denee

We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa by Chris McDowall and Tim Denee Photo: Massey University Press