Creative Non-Fiction and The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of going to the Award ceremony in Auckland. The Non-Fiction category, for which my book Lost and Gone Away was a finalist was  announced straight after the Best First Book awards. I had been telling everyone that I was betting on Witi Ihimaera’s Maaori Boy which I think is a landmark book on the New Zealand scene. And that is the book that won the Non-Fiction prize. I won’t say it is an easy book to read. It has so many stories within stories that sometimes I felt as if I couldn’t fit another one in my head, but that is the world it is telling us about. I think this is the only memoir I have ever read that contains the creation of the earth. That is how far back and wide it goes. And in-between the writer and the creation stretches a long long line of people whose stories influence the boy and what you might call his fate. I was pleased this book won the prize. I think we, Aotearoa New Zealand writers and readers , need more books about every aspect of the bi-cultural world so that we can learn about it, and also so students of writing can see what is possible.  Today I was writing an essay about Charles Brasch’s poem The Clear. That brought home to me how important it is to feel that you could belong in a piece of writing. When I read his poems I know that when he says ‘me’ he could mean me. Young Maaori writers deserve that too.

So my congratulations to Witi.

I did wonder though, later, after the merry-go-round had stopped and the music had died, whether there needs to be a re-think of the Non-Fiction category, and perhaps Creative Non-Fiction needs to be its own category. The books in this category were so different from each other in method and purpose that I couldn’t see a reason why they should be judged against each other. My pastiche Lost and Gone Away versus Rachel Barrowman’s scholarly biography of Maurice Gee? How does that make sense? Creative Non-Fiction is enjoying a flowering in Aotearoa at the moment. How about making space for that?