Ockham shortlist 2019 featured

BooksMarch 6, 2019

Announcing who made it onto the 2019 Ockham NZ Book Awards shortlist!

Ockham shortlist 2019 featured

The clock has struck 5:00am – meaning the embargo on the 2019 Ockham New Zealand national book awards has been lifted, and the dear old Spinoff Review of Books is first in with the full list of who has made it.

Okay so here is the shortlist, as immediately follows; drum roll please; do join us at the end of the list for some blather and commentary. But right now the important thing is to find out who has made the cut. To those who didn’t: sympathies, the judges are idiots. To those who did: congrats!


This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman (Penguin Random House)

The Cage by Lloyd Jones (Penguin Random House)

All This by Chance by Vincent O’Sullivan (Victoria University Press)

The New Ships by Kate Duignan (Victoria University Press)


Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Victoria University Press)

Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath (Victoria University Press)

There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime by Erik Kennedy (Victoria University Press)

The Facts by Therese Lloyd (Victoria University Press)


We Can Make a Life by Chessie Henry (Victoria University Press)

Hudson & Halls: The Food of Love by Joanne Drayton (Otago University Press)

Memory Pieces by Maurice Gee (Victoria University Press)

With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in the First World War by Anna Rogers (Massey University Press)


Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing by Sean Mallon with Sébastien Galliot (Te Papa Press)

Fight for the Forests: The Pivotal Campaigns that Saved New Zealand’s Native Forests by Paul Bensemann (Potton & Burton)

Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E Mervyn Taylor edited by Bronwyn Holloway-Smith (Massey University Press)

Birdstories: A History of the Birds of New Zealand by Geoff Norman (Potton & Burton)


Right then. The winners are:

The power and range of the modern New Zealand novel. In the strongest field in many years, the shortlist for best novel at the 2019 Ockham New Zealand national book awards has narrowed it down to three books by very distinguished authors, and one by Kate Duignan, who is no naif, either, and certainly no slouch. She might take the big prize ahead of Lloyd Jones and Fiona Kidman and Vincent O’Sullivan but surely not; surely it’s going to be one of those elders of the NZ Lit tribe.

Penguin Random House. Yeah yeah, Victoria University Press have got eight titles in the shortlist of 16 books, good for them, it must be nice to have secure funds and the backing of the academic civil service – but full credit to good old Penguin Random House, which has published two of the four novels up for consideration in the fiction prize. VUP come close to a monopoly in New Zealand letters and that can’t be good or tolerable so it’s great to see Penguin, and Potton & Burton, make it onto the Ockham shortlist as the only two publishers outside of the universities and museums.

Victoria University Press. Congrats, VUP! The Spinoff Review of Books is picking Chessie Henry to win the non-fiction prize for We Can Make a Life, her great book on the Christchurch earthquakes. We’re cautiously picking Vincent O’Sullivan’s novel All This by Chance to win the fiction prize – maybe, possibly, we don’t know, it could just as easily be Fiona Kidman or Lloyd Jones. But we’re very confident indeed that an author from VUP will win the poetry prize.

Massey University Press. It’s barely out of short pants but in the brief time it’s been up and running, and under the spell of publisher Nicola Legat, MUP (ugh!) has charged ahead to claim a strong presence in New Zealand literature, and fully deserves its two nominations in the 2019 Ockham shortlist. Mind you, they probably won’t win.

White people. Here we go again, with #ockhamsowhite. The number of brown authors who have made the shortlist and will be welcomed at the 2019 Ockham prize ceremony is exactly two: poet Tayi Tibble, and Sean Mallon, the co-author of Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing. Still, no doubt there’ll be a karakia and that for whitey to feel they’re honouring diversity.

Mitochondria. Wha? Mitochondria research company MitoQ, founded on breakthrough cellular research undertaken at Otago University, is now a global success story – and is giving back, by sponsoring the best first book awards at the 2019 Ockhams. Nice one! DNA rules.

The Spinoff Review of Books. New Zealand’s liveliest and most thorough literary section ran reviews of all four shortlisted novels (This Mortal Boy, The Cage, All This by Chance and The New Ships), published all four shortlisted poets (Helen Heath, Tayi Tibble, Erik Kennedy (sort of lol), and Therese Lloyd), excerpted the two best books in the non-fiction category (We Can Make a Life and Memory Pieces), and ran cool photos from our pick to win the illustrated non-fiction category, Tatau: A History of Sāmoan Tattooing. We will most certainly be present at the awards, held on May 14, to report on the most important thing – what the authors are wearing.

All the shortlisted titles are available at Unity Books.


The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books, recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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