Shonagh Koea has published short stories, novels and memoir. North & South commented that ‘Shonagh Koea has a command of prose, an originality of expression, a sophisticated wit and a richness of imagery, which makes her writing a delight.’ She won the Air New Zealand Short Story Award (1981), her novel Sing to Me, Dreamer was a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards (1995), and The Lonely Margins of the Sea was runner-up for the Deutz Medal for Fiction (1999). She has held the University of Auckland Fellowship in Literature (1993) and the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship (1997).
Koea’s territory is ‘the contrast between domestic misery and various forms of withdrawal or escape’ (The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature), and she has been described ‘as addictive as nicotine or coffee — with, perhaps, major withdrawal symptoms’ (Nelson Evening Mail).
Poet Alistair Paterson said of Staying Home and Being Rotten, ‘This is not merely a good book, but a work of brilliance. It establishes Shonagh Koea as a leading New Zealand novelist and a writer of international significance.’
The Kindness of Strangers: Kitchen Memoirs is a collection of Koea’s memories from her various roles as daughter, wife, mother, journalist and novelist, and as such serves as a social history of New Zealand of the past 50 years. Reviewing it in The New Zealand Listener, Graeme Lay called it ‘a truly delectable read’. The New Zealand Herald wrote: ‘the ingredients in Shonagh Koea’s writing — among them a delicate yet incisive wit, keen perception, irony, and an abundance of sensuous imagery — are good enough to stand alone. Still, the 25 plain and tasty very mid-century New Zealand recipes are skilfully interwoven with the episodic memories they give rise to, and slowly build up a fascinating portrait.'