Victoria University Press takes top non-fiction prize at book awards

Victoria University Press of Wellington took out three prizes at the Ockham NZ Book Awards on Tuesday night, including the top prize for general non-fiction for rock musician Shayne Carter’s autobiography Dead People I Have Known.

Carter also won the best first book award category for his debut book. It’s the first time in the awards’ history that a work of non-fiction has won both the general and best first book categories.

Dead People I Have Known is the story of Carter’s life growing up in poverty and violence in Dunedin, the awakening he went through when he found punk music, and his turbulent life as the front man for his indie bands, Straightjacket Fits and Dimmer.

The judges praised the book for being “a fascinating look at what it means and how it feels to be a creative obsessive. It is rock-star writing: entertaining, revealing and incredibly heartfelt.”

Jane Arthur, a graduate of the International Institute of Modern Letters’(IIML) Master of Arts creative writing programme, won the best first book award for poetry for her debut collection, Craven. Of her win Arthur said, “It's rather overwhelming to win this award and incredibly validating. It forces me to take my work seriously, when my tendency is always to downplay what I do. It feels like a vote of confidence.”

Publisher at VUP, Fergus Barrowman said, “This is wonderful recognition for these two writers and for their books, which I hope find many readers.”

As well as the VUP published winners, University alumni won two more of the top awards, with Helen Rickerby winning the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her collection How to Live (AUP), and Matariki Williams winning as one of the three editors of Illustrated Non-fiction prize-winner Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance (Te Papa Press).

The Ockham NZ Book Awards, usually held at the Aotea Centre in Auckland, were broadcast by livestream due to COVID-19.