Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2020

Published: 05-May-2020

The Ockham Award Shortlist has been announced for 2020.

Ockham 2020

Established in 1968, in their current format these annual awards offer four principal prizes: the Poetry Award, the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, the Illustrated Non-Fiction Award and the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction. There are also four Best First Book awards, and a Māori language award for books written entirely in te reo Māori, awarded at the judges’ discretion.

The awards event is held in May each year.

This year, the awards have gone virtual - so don't forget to take a look at the Ockham Youtube channel!

Please note that Waimakariri Libraries may not hold copies of all titles mentioned.



Title: Auē
Publication: Mākaro Press
Author: Becky Manawatu

Becky Manawatu’s remarkable debut novel is a taonga pounamu: raw life polished to a sheen that’s beautiful, warm and stone-hard. Auē introduces orphaned Arama, deposited in rural Kaikōura with his Aunty Kat and hair-trigger Uncle Stu, and his brother Taukiri, a young man fending for himself in the big smoke. There is violence and sadness, not least when Jade and Aroha and Toko stumble into the brutal kinship of gang life. But there is buoyant humour, too, remarkable insights, forgiveness and a massive suffusion of love.

Pearly Gates

Title: Pearly Gates
Publication: Vintage, Penguin Random House
Author: Owen Marshall

Pearly Gates is the second-time mayor of a provincial South Island town, owner of a thriving real-estate business and dedicated husband to Helen. If he stands for a third time, will he win? Is he actually as beloved as he believes? By keeping the book moving by merely threatening to have a plot, master storyteller Marshall creates a subtle, deliciously sly character study inside a love letter to small-town New Zealand that’s perceptive and funny despite being devotedly understated.

A Mistake

Title: A Mistake
Publication: Victoria University Press
Author: Carl Shuker

In Carl Shuker's novel, an operation in a Wellington hospital goes horribly wrong under the supervision of Elizabeth Taylor, a capable, ambitious female surgeon. A Mistake is a masterful dissection of truth and fallibility, hubris and high-minded sexism, in the form of a literary thriller. This sharp-eyed, sharp-elbowed tale seamlessly combines a close observer's understanding of medicine and its political machinations with keen social observation and rare storytelling nous.

Halibut On The Moon

Title: Halibut on the Moon
Publication: Text Publishing
Author: David Vann

This deep, dark and relentless novel tells of Jim, a manic-depressive, who travels from Alaska to California to see his estranged children, his brother, Gary, his distant parents – and a therapist. That it’s told from Jim’s perspective makes it a kind of a grim ventriloquism, with Jim as a mad, blackly humorous truth-teller – even more so when you discover that he’s based on the author’s father. Vann’s mesmerising prose makes it a compelling, fearsomely unsentimental story that speeds along like a freight train in the night.


Moth Hour

Title: Moth Hour
Publication: Auckland University Press
Author: Anne Kennedy

Anne Kennedy puts her extraordinary talents onto the page through ‘variations on a theme’. The poems are sharp, without sentimentalism, and show much deftness in their musicality while being at the same time soft, strong and beautiful. The 1970s era of music, politics, the Vietnam War and social change is evoked without cliché, providing a historical context for both a personal and a political commentary on contemporary society as well as a consideration of the universal experience of death, grief, mourning, and looking back as we age.

How To Live

Title: How to Live
Publication: Auckland University Press
Author: Helen Rickerby

Helen Rickerby sets down an ambitious manifesto on which she convincingly delivers. Her collection is an exploration of women’s writing throughout history, illuminating the life stories of women as diverse as Hipparchia of Maroneia, Ban Zhao, George Eliot and Mary Shelley. Their stories are set out in striking sequences of poetry that play with form. What do women need to be philosophers? Why are women silenced? Who can tell us how to live? These questions and many others are explored in this clever, engaging and forthright collection.

Lay Studies

Title: Lay Studies
Publication: Victoria University Press
Author: Steven Toussaint

Lay Studies is formidably but not inaccessibly brainy, and it’s as much a crash course in Thomist and neoplatonic philosophy as it is an interrogation of goodness, truth and religious faith – concepts that have lost intellectual currency in our neoliberal era but which Steven Toussaint treats with urgency and conviction. Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson and above all Pound – the Pound of the Pisan Cantos – are just some of the evident influences in this densely allusive, theologically questioning collection.

How I Get Ready

Title: How I Get Ready
Publication: Victoria University Press
Author: Ashleigh Young

An Ashleigh Young poem is a world: hospitable, strange, a little off kilter. The poems in How I Get Ready bristle with humour and curiosity; they are idiosyncratically observant and keenly empathetic. That empathy is extended to the reader – the poems confide and beguile, providing access not just to the speaker’s travails but also to those of lives remote in history: the compulsive disorder of a sensitive young man living in the early 20th Century, for example, or the emotional anguish of the late medieval mystic, Margery Kempe.


Crafting Aotearoa

Title: Crafting Aotearoa: A Cultural History of Making in New Zealand and the Wider Moana Oceania
Publication: Te Papa Press
Edited by Karl Chitham, Kolokesa U Māhina-Tuai and Damian Skinner

Challenging the traditional categorisations of art and craft, this significant book traverses the history of making in Aotearoa New Zealand from an inclusive vantage. Māori, Pākehā and Moana Oceania knowledge and practices are presented together, acknowledging the influences, similarities and divergences of each. The engaging texts by over 66 passionate experts discuss traditional and contemporary handmade objects, accompanied by gorgeous images of the works, alongside historical and contemporary photos.

Protest Tautohetohe

Title: Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance
Publication: Te Papa Press
Edited by Stephanie Gibson, Matariki Williams and Puawai Cairns

Bringing together a variety of protest matter of national significance, both celebrated and previously disregarded, this ambitious book builds a substantial history of protest and activism within Aotearoa New Zealand. The design itself is rebellious in nature and masterfully brings objects, song lyrics and artworks to the centre of our attention. Well written, and with contributions by significant voices, this book retells our national history with sophistication, from contact to 2019, and from an alternative perspective – one of dissent.

We Are Here

Title: We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa
Publication: Massey University Press
Authors: Chris McDowall and Tim Denee

This fascinating and unique visual representation of Aotearoa New Zealand reveals us to ourselves, chronicling our history and capturing the present. The authors have brought together complex and often surprising sets of big data, presenting them in genuinely accessible ways. Essays by a range of authors contextualise the visualisations, offering the reader different angles for interpretation. The immediate and easy visual appeal of this book belies the comprehensive research and well-considered representation of Aotearoa. It is relevant to us all.

McCahon Country

Title: McCahon Country
Publication: Penguin Random House and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Author: Justin Paton

Colin McCahon looms over the art scene of Aotearoa like the Colossus of Rhodes, so high you can’t get over him, so wide you can’t get round him…so the song goes. To get a clearer bead on the artist on the hundredth anniversary of his birth, Justin Paton takes us on a thematic road trip consisting of fourteen illuminating chapters. Into the Valley, across the Bridge and deep into the Night of the artist, we finally arrive at our very own ‘There’, with Colin sitting beside us, no longer an imponderable giant, but as a fellow New Zealander, enjoying the view.


Dead People I Have Known

Title: Dead People I Have Known
Publication: Victoria University Press
Author: Shayne Carter

Shayne Carter says, ‘I realised that the way to write was to write pretty much the way I talk – kind of terse with some swearing.’ Dead People I Have Known is an illuminating insight into the childhood of a boy who didn’t fit in and was saved by music. This memoir is an honest look at the life of a key figure in New Zealand music; refreshingly brash, reeling off the page with searing honesty, ego and obsession. Rock star writing.

An Examined Life

Title: Shirley Smith: An Examined Life
Publication: Victoria University Press
Author: Sarah Gaitanos

Sarah Gaitanos champions the life of Shirley Smith, whose achievements working for human rights and social causes are often overshadowed by the notoriety of her husband, Bill Sutch. Drawn from voluminous archives and the recollections of family and colleagues, a clear picture is presented of a frank, principled woman who swam against the current of her time. Written with clarity, insightful interpretation of sources and a steady tone, a remarkable story is expertly revealed.

Wild Honey

Title: Wild Honey: Reading New Zealand Women’s Poetry
Publication: Massey University Press
Author: Paula Green

Addressing an absence of women in the canon, Paula Green has created a broader understanding of our poetic tradition. From drawing the long dead forth from the archives to claiming contemporary songwriters, her house of New Zealand poetry reflects the diversity of Aotearoa and helps us to rethink what poetry is and the kind of people who make it. Inspiring in its knowledge and unique structure, Wild Honey is insightful and enduring.

Towards the Mountain

Title: Towards the Mountain: A Story of Grief and Hope Forty Years on from Erebus
Publication: Allen & Unwin
Author: Sarah Myles

On the anniversary of the Erebus disaster, Sarah Myles explores forty years of silence and the legacy of grief for one family who lost their grandfather. Her investigations included talking with families, police and others involved in the recovery operation and its aftermath. The story reverberates beyond one family’s grief to encompass the shared experiences of all who were affected. A moving memoir that highlights the importance of talking and of public acknowledgement and memorial.

Image and Description credit: Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Trust

NZ Book Awards Website