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Manawatu wins New Zealand Book Award for fiction

The winners of the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards have been announced. Debut novelist Becky Manawatu took out the NZ$55,000 ($A51,700) Jann Medicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, New Zealand’s richest literary prize, as well as the Hubert Church Prize for a best first book of fiction for Auē (Mākaro Press).

The judges said Manawatu’s debut—the story of orphaned Arama, who is deposited in rural Kaikōura with relatives, and his brother Taukiri, a young man fending for himself in the big smoke—has a ‘uniquely New Zealand voice’ and ‘sparing and often beautiful language’.

‘There is violence and sadness and rawness in this book, but buoyant humour too, remarkable insights into the minds of children and young men, incredible forgiveness and a massive suffusion of love,’ the judges said.

Musician and writer Shayne Carter also took home two awards, taking out both the NZ$10,000 (A$9,400) general nonfiction award and the E H McCormick Prize for a best first work of general nonfiction, for his memoir Dead People I Have Known (Victoria University Press).

Two other award categories were also announced, with each category winner also receiving NZ$10,000. The category winners are:


  • How to Live (Helen Rickerby, Auckland University Press)

Illustrated nonfiction

  • Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of resistance, persistence and defiance (ed by Stephanie Gordon, Matariki Williams & Puawai Cairns, Te Papa Press)

Best First Book Awards in the categories of poetry and illustrated nonfiction were also presented. The winners of these first book prizes are:


  • Craven (Jane Arthur, Victoria University Press)

Illustrated nonfiction

  • We Are Here: An atlas of Aotearoa (Chris McDowall & Tim Denee, Massey University Press)

As well as receiving NZ$2500 (A$2350) prize money, each Best First Book Award-winner receives a 12-month membership subscription to the New Zealand Society of Authors.

The 2020 winners, chosen from shortlists announced in March, were announced during a virtual ceremony on the evening of Tuesday 12 May that was live streamed on the Awards’ YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Paula Morris, a trustee of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, which governs the awards said: ‘This was another extremely competitive year, with a diverse range of outstanding books, reflecting the creativity and vibrancy of our local publishing. It’s also a year of surprises, with two debut writers taking home big prizes.’

To find out more about the awards, judges and the winners’ books go visit the NZ Book Awards website.


Category: Awards Local news