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Meet: The MitoQ Best First Book Winners 2021

The New Zealand Book Awards is a highly anticipated event on the arts calendar every year and one category that continues to gain interest is the MitoQ Best First Book Awards. We at MitoQ are proud to have sponsored this category, empowering new writers to better pursue their writing careers.

“This is MitoQ’s third year sponsoring this award and every year we are overwhelmed by both the talent in this country and the quality of writing from first-time book writers. Whilst the basis of our company is anchored in robust science, we recognize that storytelling is critical to connecting at a human level with people. It has been this way for millennia and across cultures. I want to recognize all the hard work that the authors have put into writing their books, it is an incredible achievement. A huge congratulations to all our winners,” says MitoQ CEO, Mahara Inglis.

We were lucky enough to speak to this year's talented winners to ask them some quick-fire questions about their award-winning books, what winning the prize means to them and how they hope to inspire their readers.

MitoQ Best First Book Awards Winners 2021

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Monique Fiso

MitoQ Best First Book award for Illustrated Non-Fiction:
Monique Fiso, Hiakai: Modern Maori Cuisine, Godwit, Penguin Random House

“Monique Fiso shares her personal journey as a chef alongside her journey into the knowledge of her tūpuna/ancestors.  Hiakai weaves understanding of our unique environment, hunting, foraging, cooking, eating and preserving into an expansive but very accessible offering.” says llustrated Non-Fiction category convenor of judges Dale Cousens.

What drew you to write this particular book?

I spent years accumulating knowledge about Māori culinary history, cooking techniques and indigenous ingredients and I wanted to share it. I wanted to share it because it was important but also because it wasn't easily accessible, and it should be. 

What does winning the MitoQ Best First Book Award mean to you?

It's an incredible honour! I have been really chuffed with the reception to the book and I'm very grateful to win this award.

MitoQ helps energy and resilience, but really we're about giving people more power to do more of what they love. How do you hope your book empowers the people reading it?

I think any opportunity to connect with your heritage or your country is empowering and that has certainly been the case for me. Power to the people!

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Jackson Nieuwland

MitoQ Best First Book Award for Poetry:
Jackson Nieuwland, I Am A Human Being, Compound Press

“Nieuwland’s dramatic monologues assail the reader with absurd, appealing, poignant, and humorous scenarios that are gleefully illogical, grandiose, deflating, and bulging with insight. The writing frequently overspills its lyrical open form and flows into newly imagined dimensions. It’s fun, fast, sometimes fragile, and full-on,” says Poetry category convenor of judges Dr Briar Wood.

What drew you to create this particular book?

I worked on this book on and off for ten years. Once I'd written one poem beginning with the phrase "I am a" I couldn't seem to stop. I'm really grateful that the book has finally been published because that gives me the freedom to explore other kinds of poems. The project only really started making sense about halfway through the process, when I realised that I'm genderqueer. That gave a whole new context, meaning, and energy to the poems which finally allowed them to become a complete work.

What does winning the MitoQ Best First Book Award mean to you?

Winning the award is a very appreciated form of recognition and validation. I've gone back and forth with myself countless times about whether these poems are worthwhile or even any good. Whenever someone tells me that the poems mean something to them, it gives me a big boost. Winning the award means that at least three more people (the judges) think the poems have some value. The money is also a big help lol.

MitoQ helps energy and resilience, but really we're about giving people more power to do more of what they love. How do you hope your book empowers the people reading it?

My biggest hope is that my book empowers people to take the time and energy to consider their own identity and the possibilities of what identity can be. I also hope that it shows people who don't like poetry that they might like some poetry.

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Madison Hamill

MitoQ Best First Book Award for General Non-Fiction:
Madison Hamill, Specimen Personal Essays, Victoria University Press

“In this compulsively readable first book, Madison Hamill observes her own difference with an outsider’s detached gaze, and the ordinary people around her with tender curiosity. This is the work of a luminous new talent in New Zealand life writing,” says General Non-Fiction category convenor of judges Dr Sarah Shieff.

What drew you to write this particular book?

Writing is my way of thinking, so this book was my way of thinking about who I was and what it means to have or create an identity.

What does winning the MitoQ Best First Book Award mean to you?

It’s wonderful to have all the hard work of creating a book be recognised like this—it’s a big encouragement to keep writing and also some financial support to do so along with it.

MitoQ helps energy and resilience, but really we're about giving people more power to do more of what they love. How do you hope your book empowers the people reading it?

I guess I hope that for some readers the book lets them feel less lonely about their own experiences. I also hope to show young writers that you don’t have to have lived a long or extraordinary life for it to be worth writing about.

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Rachel Kerr

MitoQ Best First Book Award for Fiction:
Rachel Kerr, Victory Park, Mākaro Press

“Sensitively examining the emotional and mental labour of being careful with money and the blind spots people have when they don’t need to worry about it, this quietly powerful novel is about privilege, community, compassion and care,” says Fiction category convenor of judges Kiran Dass.

What drew you to write this particular book?

I first started thinking about it after the arrest and trial of fraudster Bernie Madoff, as I wondered about the effect on his family. Then as I thought more about how cause and effect work in the novel I thought it would be interesting to centre the novel a bit further away from the antagonist, to look at the second and third hand effects of major misdemeanour – the trickledown effect of trauma.

What does winning the MitoQ Best First Book Award mean to you?

It’s a joy to win this award partly because it puts me in the company of past winners who I respect, and because it’s a public vote of confidence from a panel of sophisticated readers. I think evaluation of books is a complex and at least partly subjective business but I’m happy and grateful to have this support.

MitoQ helps energy and resilience, but really we're about giving people more power to do more of what they love. How do you hope your book empowers the people reading it?

One of the simple ideas which recurs in the book though not explicitly, is the concept of scale, for example if we think of new opportunities or new projects as very small, it helps with feeling in control and feeling like we have time. I guess another feature is that it investigates how ideas of who is and isn’t successful change dramatically over a life time, which allows for development.

+ Read about past winners here

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