Witi Ihimaera's Maori Boy takes out the General Non-Fiction Category at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards
Beloved novelist, Witi Ihimaera, has won the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for General Non-Fiction category, for his memoir, Maori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood.
The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are the country’s premier literary honours for works written by New Zealanders. First established in 1968 as the Wattie Book Awards (later the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards), they have also been known as the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the New Zealand Post Book Awards. The honours, now given for Fiction, Illustrated Non-fiction, General Non-Fiction and Poetry, as well as for Best First Book, are governed by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust (a registered charity).
This year’s category judges’ convenor, Simon Wilson says: “With Maori Boy, Witi Ihimaera has woven his whakapapa into a great cloak whose feathers wink and flash as you hold it to the light: there are personal and family secrets, revealed with courage and grace; yarns spun with a gleeful skill; polemics that slip through the weave and demand to be considered, too. A delight to read alone, it’s also for reading aloud, and it’s not hard to imagine, with Maori and Pakeha audiences alike, just how delightful — and also explosive — that experience might be.”
Given that the art of story-telling runs deep through his beloved Maori culture, Witi Ihimaera always knew there would come a point where he would have to bite the bullet and start on his own story, but the issue was a fraught one for him.
Something that troubled him, he says, was that this would mean he would have to put himself centre stage as the main character and ‘Maori just don’t do that. Individuals being the centre of attention just doesn’t sit comfortably with us.
‘The other issue he had to struggle with was the memoir’s shape. It simply couldn’t be a conventional biographical structure told through a linear narrative. His story seemed to be ‘all over the place, organic with its various twists and turns for this fun-loving and rather unusual little Maori boy from Gisborne’.
He says he saw his life story taking the shape of a spiral and at its centre is his whakapapa which includes both his Maori and Scottish/Irish ancestry.
‘I remember once reading an interview with the great 70s beauty Jacqueline Bisset. She spoke of her father sitting her down, after all of the attention she was getting, and saying to her ‘there’s one thing I need to tell you and that is that your beauty comes from your father, your mother, your grandparents so don’t think that what you have you have acquired it by yourself. You have acquired it through an accumulation of who’s walked before you.’
‘A writer just doesn’t come out fully formed. A writer is the result of experiences,’ says Witi.
The second volume to follow Maori Boy: A Memoir of Childhood, is due to be published at the end of 2017.
Writing about the Māori world, both rural and urban, often knocking into the Pākehā status quo, Witi Ihimaera’s writing has always offered a broader view of what New Zealand literature could be – should be – about.
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