Ockham New Zealand Book Awards longlist breaks all records - is it the widest-ranging yet?

Too many established authors/not enough well-known authors. Too inclusive/not inclusive enough.  Too high brow/not literary enough. ‘Why hasn’t so-and-so made the list?’  Why did that book get on there?’

Write about the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and you’ll hear all those comments.  No doubt, it will be the same for 2023 but there’s likely to be a good deal more genuine surprise about the longlist which, says the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa, is the largest and widest ranging in recent years.

They’re not wrong. For starters, there are blockbuster crime novels on the fiction list. The poetry finalists are mainly new-ish and emerging young poets, a true reflection of who’s writing poetry in Aotearoa. General Non-Fiction category judges have been able to choose 14 books to longlist.

They’re part of a “record number” of 44 poetry, prose, general and illustrated non-fiction titles compared to 40 in previous years. Trust chair Nicola Legat says that the discretionary increase reflects the volume of submissions for the General Non-Fiction award, the number and range of which well exceeds the other three categories.

“This gives the judges more opportunity to honour more books, and more types of books. This category longlist certainly reflects the terrific depth and breadth of non-fiction publishing in New Zealand and is a credit to its authors and publishers.” 

There have been grumbles that General Non-Fiction wasn’t broad enough to encompass an ever-growing range of excellent memoirs. While there are 14 books on the longlist, including four memoirs, the shortlist will still be four, in line with the other categories. It’s possibly still too wide a category; a case can be made for a separate creative non-fiction category but that, of course, depends on sponsorship.

There were 191 award entries this year – more than ever before which is an increase of 20 percent compared to 2022. Almost a third (14) of the longlistees are first-time authors – an increase from 10 debutants on the 40-strong list last year – and there are 19 publishers represented across all categories. 

“The New Zealand Book Awards Trust was thrilled by the record number of entries to the awards this year. It’s very heartening to see the longlist shared among so many publishing houses, both big and small,” says Legat. “When you consider that many of these books were produced and went to print during the stressful Covid restrictions of late 2021, it’s even more of an achievement…”

There’s more prize money, too.  The winner of the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction will receive $64,000 in 2023 and each of the other main category prizes will earn their winners $12,000 (up from $10,000 in recent years). Each of the Best First Book winners, for fiction, poetry, general non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction, will be awarded $3000 (up from $2500).

The 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards longlisted titles are:

*represents debut authors.

 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction

Better the Blood by Michael Bennett (Simon & Schuster)

Chevalier & Gawayn: The Ballad of the Dreamer by Phillip Mann (Quentin Wilson Publishing)

Down from Upland by Murdoch Stephens (Lawrence & Gibson)

Home Theatre by Anthony Lapwood (Te Herenga Waka University Press)*

How to Loiter in a Turf War by Coco Solid (Penguin, Penguin Random House)*

Kāwai: For Such a Time as This by Monty Soutar (Bateman Books)

Mary’s Boy, Jean-Jacques and other stories by Vincent O’Sullivan (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant by Cristina Sanders (The Cuba Press)

The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

The Fish by Lloyd Jones (Penguin, Penguin Random House)

Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry

Always Italicise: How to Write While Colonised by Alice Te Punga Somerville (Auckland University Press)

Echidna by Essa May Ranapiri (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Meat Lovers by Rebecca Hawkes (Auckland University Press)*

Night School by Michael Steven (Otago University Press)

People Person by Joanna Cho (Te Herenga Waka University Press)*

Sedition by Anahera Maire Gildea (Taraheke | Bush Lawyer)*

Super Model Minority by Chris Tse (Auckland University Press)

Surrender by Michaela Keeble (Taraheke | Bush Lawyer)*

The Pistils by Janet Charman (Otago University Press)

We’re All Made of Lightning by Khadro Mohamed (We Are Babies Press, Tender Press)*

Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction

I am Autistic by Chanelle Moriah (Allen & Unwin)*

Jumping Sundays: The Rise and Fall of the Counterculture in Aotearoa New Zealand by Nick Bollinger (Auckland University Press)

Kai: Food Stories and Recipes from my Family Table by Christall Lowe (Bateman Books)*

Nature Boy: The Photography of Olaf Petersen edited by Catherine Hammond and Shaun Higgins (Auckland University Press)

Paradise Camp by Yuki Kihara, edited by Natalie King (Thames & Hudson Australia)

Robin White: Something is Happening Here edited by Sarah Farrar, Jill Trevelyan and Nina Tonga (Te Papa Press and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki)

Secrets of the Sea: The Story of New Zealand’s Native Sea Creatures by Robert Vennell (HarperCollins)

Tāngata Ngāi Tahu | People of Ngāi Tahu Volume Two edited by Helen Brown and Michael J Stevens (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Bridget Williams Books)

Te Motunui Epa by Rachel Buchanan (Bridget Williams Books)

Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art edited by Nigel Borell (Penguin Random House New Zealand in association with Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki)

General Non-Fiction Award

A Fire in the Belly of Hineāmaru: A Collection of Narratives about Te Tai Tokerau Tūpuna by Melinda Webber and Te Kapua O’Connor (Auckland University Press)

A History of New Zealand in 100 Objects by Jock Phillips (Penguin, Penguin Random House)

Democracy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Survival Guide by Geoffrey Palmer and Gwen Palmer Steeds (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay by Paul Diamond (Massey University Press)

Empire City: Wellington Becomes the Capital of New Zealand by John E Martin (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Every Sign of Life: On Family Ground by Nicholas Lyon Gresson (Quentin Wilson Publishing)

Gaylene’s Take: Her Life in New Zealand Film by Gaylene Preston (Te Herenga Waka University Press)*

Grand: Becoming my Mother’s Daughter by Noelle McCarthy (Penguin, Penguin Random House)*

Lāuga: Understanding Samoan Oratory by Sadat Muaiava (Te Papa Press)*

So Far, For Now: On Journeys, Widowhood and Stories that are Never Over by Fiona Kidman (Vintage, Penguin Random House)

The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi by Ned Fletcher (Bridget Williams Books)*

The Road to Gondwana: In Search of the Lost Supercontinent by Bill Morris (Exisle Publishing)*

Thief, Convict, Pirate, Wife: The Many Histories of Charlotte Badger by Jennifer Ashton (Auckland University Press)

You Probably Think This Song is About You by Kate Camp (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Who’s judging the awards?

The Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction will be judged by bestselling author, critic and creative writing teacher Stephanie Johnson (convenor); editor and literature assessor John Huria (Ngāi Tahu, Muaūpoko, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Ngāti Rangi); and Rotorua bookseller Jemma Morrison. They will be joined in deciding the ultimate winner from their shortlist of four by an international judge.

Johnson says, “It is an eclectic list, which is a great strength. The longlist reflects standout writing across all fiction genre published in the last year. The books listed are of enormous appeal - they're fresh, vibrant and all are valuable additions to our national literature.”

Judging the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry will be Dunedin poet, author and creative writing tutor Diane Brown (convenor); poet and kaiako Serie Barford; and Wellington poet and Grimshaw-Sargeson Fellow Gregory Kan.

The Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction will be judged by award-winning writer, historian and archivist Jared Davidson (convenor); writer and curator Dr Anna-Marie White (Te Ātiawa); and veteran television producer Taualeo’o Stephen Stehlin MNZM.

The General Non-Fiction Award will be judged by writer and award-winning columnist Anna Rawhiti-Connell (convenor); prize-winning author, academic and researcher Alison Jones; and historian Professor Te Maire Tau (Ūpoko of Ngāi Tūāhuriri, a hapu of Ngāi Tahu).

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are supported by Ockham Residential, Creative New Zealand, Jann Medlicott and the Acorn Foundation, Mary and Peter Biggs CNZM, Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand and the Auckland Writers Festival.

The 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlist of 16 titles will be announced on 8 March. The winners, including four Best First Book Awards recipients, will be announced at a public ceremony on 17 May during the 2023 Auckland Writers Festival. 

To find out more about the longlisted titles go to [