Māori writer wins $60,000 at NZ’s top book awards

By Tamara Poi-Ngawhika

By Tamara Poi-Ngawhika, Te Rito journalism cadet

The country’s leading annual literary event, the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, has celebrated Māori storytellers with three wahine Māori writers taking home major awards.

The top prize, the Jann Medlicott Acorn Award, went to Te Arawa and Tūwharetoa author Whiti Hereaka for her novel, Kurangaituku.

The story is a retelling of the Te Arawa myth and famous bird woman Kurangaituku and her nemesis, Hatupatu.

“I grew up with the story of Hatupatu for a long time,” Hereaka said. “But I’ve always been a hōhā and I’ve always wanted to tell Kurangaituku’s story. I’m still in a bit of shock after winning the award. The most delicious kinds of shock. It’s amazing.”

The infamous Māori character also inspired Hereaka’s self-made outfit she wore on the night.

'Pick up your pen and strike'

“I’m dressed as my book for the occasion and a shout out to Kurangaituku for inspiring the wings.”

Wāhine Māori dominated the awards, with Nicole Titihuia Hawkins winning the prize for best first book for poetry for Whai and Rebecca K. Reilly winning best first novel for Greta & Valdin.

“I’m 30. Still, that’s really young in novelist year and I always want to set an example,” Reilly said.

Finalist and self-published author, Qiane Matata-Sipu, who wrote and photographed the pictures of Nuku, an illustration book celebrating indigenous women, says the night showcased the best of Māori writing.

 “I’m so excited to see Whiti win. I’m so proud that our indigenous wāhine Māori were honoured tonight and we got to champion wāhine Māori voices.”

Awards judge and fellow author Apirana Taylor hopes the success of Māori authors at this year’s awards will encourage others to write.

“I look and I can see some wonderful talent coming through. It’s very important because they tell the stories of our people – our pouri, our mamae, our love and out humour,” he said.

“Pick up your pen and strike! Use it like a taiaha.”