Listener journalist Diana Wichtel wins big at the Ockham Book Awards 2018

by The Listener / 15 May, 2018

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Diana Wichtel, winner of two Ockham book awards.

Other winners of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards include Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins, Elizabeth Smither, and Pip Adam, who took home the biggest prize of the night.

Listener journalist Diana Wichtel’s family memoir Driving to Treblinka: A long search for a lost father has won two major prizes at this year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Wichtel won both the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction of $10,000 and the The E.H. McCormick Best First Book Award of $2500 for General Non-Fiction at tonight’s presentation in Auckland.

Her book followed her search for her father, a Polish Jew who had escaped the Holocaust and immigrated to Canada. There, Benjamin Wichtel met and married Diana’s New Zealand-born mother who eventually returned to her home country with her children. The family lost contact with him.

The book, published by Awa Press, had its beginnings in a Listener story Wichtel wrote about searching for her father’s roots and his life in Poland during World War II published in 2011.

“Wichtel’s curiosity, alternately upsetting and uplifting, turns invisibly into a kind of mission,” the category’s judges said. “At its heart this is a family story, but one which cannot but shine a light on the vestiges of anti-Semitism that linger in Europe today.  It is not just a beautifully written book, but an important book, too.”

The category shortlist included Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds by Anne Salmond (Auckland University Press);  Drawn Out: A Seriously Funny Memoir by Tom Scott (Allen & Unwin NZ); and Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885 by Michael Belgrave (Auckland University Press).

Winner Pip Adams. Photo/Victoria Birkinshaw

Winner Pip Adam. Photo/Victoria Birkinshaw

The night’s richest award, the $50,000 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, went to Wellington writer Pip Adam for her novel The New Animals (Victoria University Press), a book that parodies the Auckland fashion scene. It was met with mixed local reviews upon its release.

“The New Animals is so vivid in imagery and imagination that the judges haven’t stopped thinking about it since,” said the Ockham organisers. “In this category in 2018, it’s the book with the most blood on the page. It will give you an electric shock.”

Academics Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins won the illustrated non-fiction category for Tuai: A traveller in two worlds (Bridget Williams Books), an account of the life of a Ngare Raumati chief from the Bay of Islands who journeyed to Georgian England in the early days of British colonialism.

Said the judges: “The text and illustrations work in concert, presenting a rounded and rich experience for the reader, enhancing the breadth and depth of the research explored within. Key moments are presented so richly that they envelop and captivate the imagination.”

Kuni Kaa Jenkins and Alison Jones.

Kuni Kaa Jenkins and Alison Jones.

The winner of the poetry category was Elizabeth Smither, who has won the prize twice before, for her latest collection Night Horse (Auckland University Press). The judges described the poems as gentle, uplifting, tender, humorous, well-crafted and luminous.”

The poetry and illustrated non-fiction winners were each awarded $10,000.

Other awards presented at the Aotea Centre ceremony included:

The Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction: Baby by Annaleese Jochems (Victoria University Press), which was also shortlisted in the Acorn Foundation Prize.

The Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry: Fully Clothed and So Forgetful by Hannah Mettner (Victoria University Press).

The Judith Binney Best First Book Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction: Caves: Exploring New Zealand’s Subterranean Wilderness by Marcus Thomas and Neil Silverwood (Whio Publishing).

Each best first book Award winner received $2500.

The 2018 Ockham NZ Book Awards judges were:

Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize: Poet, novelist and academic Anna Smaill; journalist Philip Matthews; bookseller and reviewer Jenna Todd; Glasgow-based writer, journalist and founding editor of the Scottish Review of Books Alan Taylor.

Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction: Ella Henry, lecturer in AUT’s Māori Faculty; journalist Toby Manhire; former bookseller and publisher, Philip King.

Illustrated Non-Fiction: Barbara Brookes, author of last year’s winner A History of New Zealand Women; Matariki Williams, curator Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa; Kim Paton, director of the public gallery Objectspace.

Poetry: Poet and novelist Alison Wong; poet Robert Sullivan, deputy chief executive, Māori, Manukau Institute of Technology; poet, publisher and librettist Michael Harlow.


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