Te Herenga Waka community dominates national book awards

The 2021 Ockham Book Awards were dominated by members of the Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington community last night.

Members of the Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington community won six of the eight annual awards at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards last night. 

Five of the winners are alumni of the University’s renowned International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) Creative Writing Master’s programme, while the sixth is an emeritus professor in the University’s English programme.

Three of the winning books were published by Victoria University Press (VUP).

“To have five winning graduates from the International Institute of Modern Letters indicates that our reputation as the best place to learn creative writing in Aotearoa New Zealand is well earned. It is truly outstanding to see our alumni leading in their chosen field,” says Professor Sarah Leggott, Dean of the University’s Wellington Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Airini Beautrais won the $57,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction for her short story collection Bug Week (VUP). Beautrais is best known as a poet and this is her first book of fiction. Judging convenor Kiran Dass said, “Atmospheric and refined, these stories evoke a strong sense of quiet unease, slow-burning rage, and the absurdly comic.”

Tusiata Avia became the first Pasifika women to win the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry, for The Savage Coloniser Book (VUP). Judge Dr Briar Wood said, “It’s a book bursting with alofa, profound pantoums, profanity and FafSwaggering stances, garrulously funny, bleakly satirical, magnificent.”

Emeritus Professor Vincent O’Sullivan won the General Non-Fiction Award for his “sensitive, detailed portrait” of artist Ralph Hotere, The Dark is Light Enough: Ralph Hotere A Biographical Portrait (Penguin Random House).

Three of the four MitoQ Best First Book Awards were won by IIML alumni, with Victory Park by Rachel Kerr (Mākaro Press) winning the Hubert Church Prize for Fiction; Specimen: Personal Essays by Madison Hamill (VUP) winning the E. H. McCormick Prize for General Non-Fiction; and Jackson Nieuwland winning the Jessie Mackay Prize for Poetry for I am a Human Being (Compound Press).

“We could not be prouder of Airini, Tusiata, Rachel, Madison, and Jackson, who all created unique works of literature worthy of the highest accolades,” says IIML director Professor Damien Wilkins.

VUP publisher Fergus Barrowman adds, “It is always an honour to publish our wonderful New Zealand writers. Diverse in background, with extraordinary talent, it is wonderful to see Airini, Tusiata, and Madison win these awards.”