18 Aug 2015
Once upon a time people communicated by letter. The company that delivered the mail was busy and had money to support worthy activities like book awards.
How we communicate has changed profoundly and NZPost’s sponsorship of the book awards is no longer. Thus the arts and the ‘real world’ are forever linked.
What to do? Well as is often the case committed people find a way. So hats off to the NZ Book Awards Trust, and the coalition that made the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults happen this year.
Why do these awards matter? Well, for me four reasons stand out.
- It’s important for the arts to have public profile and awards are a good way to do this. Specifically writers whose individual book launches are seldom deemed newsworthy benefit from time in the sun.
- The awards, and books that do well in them, help consumers navigate the noise of alternatives and this boosts sales for New Zealand authors.
- It validates the hard and sometimes quite lonely work that writers, publishers and editors do and it’s an opportunity to reward the very best in new writing.
- It’s important that our young people have their culture(s) acknowledged and reflected. Ideally they will feel more confident about their place in the world. We don’t need to worry about our rangatahi not being engaged with overseas projections of the world, this is what is mostly available.
The value of taking a punt
The awards occur at the end of a creative cycle that begins with the writer and weaves its way through editors, illustrators, publishers and printers.
My favourite aspect of an event like this is hearing from the award winners. Most have joyful emotions, but what I find really stimulating is when something unexpected is revealed - best of all if it reveals a nugget about the work Creative New Zealand does.
Writer and illustrator Donovan Bixley won his category with Monkey Boy. The cover describes it as part comic, part novel, all action. The book is ‘tricky’ because it’s neither a graphic novel nor a novel nor a pioneering genre buster. It was turned down by 17 publishers. Donovan showed incredible resilience and tenacity – and Creative New Zealand took a punt and supported the bold work. Finally a publisher prepared to take on something new was found and Monkey Boy was brought to life.
Another welcome development this year is the award for writing in Te Reo. This coincides nicely with our own emphasis on supporting literature in Te Reo through increased publishing subsidies. We hope this will help create many more such worthy entrants to this category.
There was also a new award recognising the contribution of Margaret Mahy to writing. Mandy Hager won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award with her book Singing Home the Whale. The following quotation from Margaret reminds us of the relationship between the reader and writer.
“Reading is very creative - it's not just a passive thing. I write a story; it goes out into the world; somebody reads it and, by reading it, completes it.”