Dame Fiona Kidman wins NZ's top literary prize

Dame Fiona Kidman. Photo: NZ Herald
Dame Fiona Kidman. Photo: NZ Herald

Dame Fiona Kidman has won the country's top literary prize.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, which are in their 51st year, were celebrated at the Aotea Centre in Auckland on Tuesday night.

Dame Fiona (79) won the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize for her novel This Mortal Boy.

Her novel re-creates the events leading to the hanging of Paddy Black - or the Jukebox Killer - at Mount Eden prison in 1955.

The judges described Dame Fiona's work as moving, memorable, authentic and "urgently relevant to our times.''

"With seeming effortlessness, she pulls the reader into mid-century New Zealand - the restlessness of a new urban youth culture, the moral panic that led to the Mazengarb report, the damning assumptions of the legal profession and the unchallenged omissions that eased the pathway to a young man's death.''

Past recipients include Witi Ihimaera, Keri Hulme and Maurice Gee.

Other winners include Joanne Drayton for non-fiction, Helen Heath for poetry, Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot for illustrated non-fiction and Sir Timoti Karetu and Dr Wharehuia Milroy for Maori language.

Those winners received a $10,000 prize.

The general non-fiction category judges said Joanne Drayton's Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love was a "touching account of companionship and enduring love''.

"Set against the backdrop of the double act many of us will remember, Hudson & Halls reveals the humour and drama of this couple's on-screen chemistry, and is a deeply moving and often surprising account of their private life.''

The Maori language award was presented this year to Sir Timoti Karetu and Dr Wharehuia Milroy for their work He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Maori te Tatau ki te Ao.

The award's judge, Dr Ruakere Hond, said the book opened doors to access "two most influential exponents of [te] reo Maori''.

"Timoti Karetu and Wharehuia Milroy invite the reader into their conversations, their yarns and musings from decades of cultural experience.

"This book's value is undeniable, its language, accessible.''

The winners

Fiction: This Mortal Boy - Dame Fiona Kidman

General Non-fiction: Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love - Joanne Drayton

Poetry: Are Friends Electric? - Helen Heath

Illustrated non-fiction: Tatau: A History of Samoan Tattooing - Sean Mallon and Sebastien Galliot

Maori language: He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Maori te Tatau ki te Ao - Sir Timoti Karetu and Dr Wharehuia Milroy

Best first book of fiction: The Sound of Breaking Glass  - Kirsten Warner

Best first work of general non-fiction: We Can Make a Life - Chessie Henry

Best first book of poetry: Poukahangatus - Tayi Tibble

Best first work of illustrated non-fiction:  Whatever It Takes: Pacific Films and John O’Shea 1948-2000 - John Reid


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