Whiti Hereaka wins New Zealand’s Ockham Prize for Fiction for novel subverting Maori myth | New Zealand

A novel subverting a Maori myth has won New Zealand’s top writing award at this year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Whiti Hereaka’s Kurangaituku, which is inspired by the Maori legend of Hatupatu and the Birdwoman but tells it from the perspective of the traditional storytelling monster, Kurangaituku, won the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize of NZ$60,000 for fiction.

Rob Kidd, convener of judges for the fiction category, said the “epic poem from a novel” was “intense, clever and sexy as hell”. It is also an important novel. A game changer.

Hereaka beat three other shortlisted novels for the prize: A Good Winter by Gigi Fenster, Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K Reilly and Entanglement by Bryan Walpert.

Winning the fiction award is “a big deal”, said Paula Morris, former winner and now spokeswoman for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, which governs the Ockham Awards.

Hereaka is the seventh Maori writer to win the prize in its nearly 50-year history. The group of previous recipients includes Patricia Grace, the late Keri Hulme, Alan Duff and Morris. With three other Maori writers on the long list this year, Morris hopes Maori winners will be “more common now”.

<a class=Books shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.” data-src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/a18f926c0ea8f6c121130fa17e3c7e2b8e9ac737/0_906_2835_1700/master/2835.jpg?width=445&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=3a04d392fa7edb226d53fda026d244d9″ height=”1700″ width=”2835″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-1989ovb”/>
Books shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Photo: provided

Morris said the awards included a range of large and small publishers and “even a self-published book, which was a runner-up.” There was also a diversity of authors and genres, she said.

“You have literary memoirs facing a book on climate change and a major work of 19th century history in one category.”

Voices from the New Zealand War by Vincent O’Malley won first prize for non-fiction. Morris described the book as a “major work of scholarship” which brings together Māori and pākehā (New Zealand European) voices.

She said there were “a lot of surprises” at Wednesday’s awards show.

“I don’t think they were delivering the most expected results, which is a good thing.”

“They were idiosyncratic and thoughtful. That’s what book prices should be.

The other winners:

  • The Judith Binney Award for Best First Illustrated Non-Fiction: The architect and the artists: Hackshaw, McCahon, Dibble by Bridget Hackshaw

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