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Ashleigh 4 lores by Russell Kleyn

BooksMarch 7, 2017

Ashleigh and the others: announcing the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlist!!!! Plus attempt to manufacture a racism stoush

Ashleigh 4 lores by Russell Kleyn

Yet another Spinoff Review of Books exclusive as we break the 6:00am embargo by 60 seconds and present, as of 5:59am,  the shortlist of the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards featuring Ashleigh Young.

Ashleigh Young and some other writers have made it onto the shortlist of the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Young, 33, the most famous New Zealand writer in the world right now, picked up a stupendous amount of loot last week when she won a major international literary award – and is now a finalist at the national book awards for her collection of essays, Can You Tolerate This?

Other finalists include the wildly popular poet Hera Lindsay Bird, Bloomsbury author Peter Simpson, and winner of the 2016 Wintec Press Club Writer of the Year Award, Adam Dudding.

Further ado to follow. Right now, here’s the shortlist.


  • The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press)
  • Love as a Stranger by Owen Marshall (Vintage, Penguin Random House)
  • Billy Bird by Emma Neale (Vintage, Penguin Random House)
  • The Name on the Door is Not Mine by CK Stead (Allen & Unwin)


  • Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young (Victoria University Press)
  • This Model World: Travels to the Edge of Contemporary Art by Anthony Byrt (Auckland University Press)
  • My Father’s Island by Adam Dudding (Victoria University Press)
  • The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920 by Ben Schrader (Bridget Williams Books)


  • Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-1953 by Peter Simpson (Auckland University Press)
  • A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes (Bridget Williams Books)
  • New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, the People by Warren Moran (Auckland University Press)
  • Ann Shelton: Dark Matter, edited by Zara Stanhope and managing editor Clare McIntosh (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki)


  • Fale Aitu | Spirit House by Tusiata Avia (Victoria University Press)
  • Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird (Victoria University Press)
  • Fits & Starts by Andrew Johnston (Victoria University Press)
  • This Paper Boat by Gregory Kan (Auckland University Press)

And so to the further ado. The Spinoff Review of Books wishes to express four remarks.

The first thing is to remark that the most exciting category is non-fiction, where three excellent practitioners of creative non-fiction – Ashleigh Young, Adam Dudding, and Anthony Byrt – will compete for the prize. That’s the one to watch; that’s the one with the highest literary standard. Fiction is a bit meh, Peter Simpson’s Bloomsbury is the one outstanding title in illustrated non-fiction, and the poetry award will either go to Hera Lindsay Bird or not.

The second thing is to remark on the dominance of Victoria University Press and Auckland University Press. Ten of the 16 finalists have been published by the two crown entities. Two titles from Penguin Random House and one from Allen & Unwin represent the only books from ye olde mainstream commercial publishers. Vast credit is due to VUP, especially; formerly a rather dowdy niche publisher, it’s now the grand central station of New Zealand letters. It’s got Ashleigh Young, it’s got Hera Lindsay Bird, it’s got Eleanor Catton – it’s even got writers other than women who have graduated from Victoria University’s phenomenal conveyor belt, the International Institute of Modern Letters.  Increasingly, also kind of disturbingly, if you want to publish a quality piece of literature in New Zealand, then you’re best to chat with Fergus Barrowman at VUP or Dr Sam Elworthy at AUP. If your work isn’t their cup of tea or their resources are too stretched, then oh dear. The narrowing of New Zealand publishing is such that the Ockhams may as well just cut to the chase and hold its national book awards at the VUP staff kitchen at 49 Rawhiti Terrace, Kelburn. Barrowman can put on the kettle. Ladies, a plate.

The third thing is to remark on some of the more notable and downright bewildering omissions. Judges, in their frail wisdom, failed to bring several really deserving books from the murk of the longlist to the stage light of the shortlist. Sympathies in particular to Nick Ascroft, author of a high-energy book of verse, Back with the Human Condition; Tracey Slaughter, the only fiction writer to deal with shall we say the lower classes, in Deleted Scenes for Lovers; Sarah Laing, who created the singularly incredible to read and look at Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir; and Vincent O’Malley, for perhaps the most startling rejection, his epic whopper, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000.

In fact the exclusion of the O’Malley book suggests that maybe the Ockhams should wear the same kind of hashtag that the Oscars had slung around its sorry neck in 2016. And so to our fourth remark: by excluding O’Malley’s book on Māori history, and also by rejecting two other books on the longlist, Tail of the Taniwha by Courtney Sina Meredith and A Whakapapa of Tradition: One Hundred Years of Ngāti Porou Carving 1830-1930 by Ngarino Ellis with Natalie Robertson, then how about #Ockhamsowhite.

Just look at that shortlist! Whitey, whitey, everywhere! Middle-class, university-trained, university-salaried whitey! Working whitey, retired whitey, youngish whitey – in short, so many white people, with the exception of poets Tusiata Avua and Gregory Kan. Elsewhere, sheet-white, Pakeha-white, whiter-than-white, whitey!

Well you know publishing and literature in New Zealand is very much a Eurocentric pastime and besides there were maybe two or three tangata whenua judges on the Ockham panel and hey the last thing anyone wants is a race-based (or gender-based) selection policy, but still. Oh well! No doubt there’ll be respectful use of te reo at the awards final, held at Auckland’s Aotea Centre on May 16.


(Photo credit for Ashleigh Young portrait: Russell Kleyn).

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