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Sidnam wins 2022 Michael Gifkins Prize

Wellington-based poet and student Emma Sidnam has been awarded the 2022 Michael Gifkins Prize for an unpublished manuscript by an Aotearoa New Zealand writer.

Chosen from a shortlist of four, Sidnam wins a publishing contract with Text and a NZ$10,000 (A$9075) advance against royalties for her manuscript Backwaters, described by the publisher as a ‘tender, nuanced novel about the bittersweet search for belonging’.

Backwaters centres on Laura, who is tired of being asked where she’s really from. Her family has lived in Aotearoa New Zealand for four generations, and she’s ambivalent at best about her Chinese heritage. But when she’s asked to write about the Chinese New Zealander experience for a work project, Laura finds herself drawn to the diary of her great-great-grandfather Ken, a market gardener in the early years of the British colony. With the help of her beloved grandpa, Laura begins to write a version of Ken’s story, imagining his youth in Guangzhou and his journey to a new land. But then a family secret comes to light, leading Laura to go on her own journey—one of self-discovery and reckoning with the past.

Sidnam is a fourth-generation Asian New Zealander who is passionate about representation and ensuring that all voices are heard. On winning the Michael Gifkins Prize, Sidnam said, ‘I’ve always written with the goal of publication. This novel has helped me grow into myself over the last two years, and I’m incredibly excited to see it out in the world.’

The prize, open to New Zealand authors, honours the late Michael Gifkins—New Zealand literary agent, writer, critic and publishing consultant—and is funded through a sponsorship from Gifkins’ family and Text Publishing. It is administered by the NZ Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa (PEN NZ) Inc.

The winner of the 2021 prize, Paper Cage by Tom Baragwanath, will be published in September this year. North American rights to the novel have been sold to Penguin Random House USA imprint Anchor, with an expected North American publication date of early 2024.

Text will publish Backwaters in September 2023.


Category: Awards Local news