Novelist Patricia Grace has won the country's top fiction writing award just 12 days after being recognised as an "icon" of New Zealand art, music and literature.
Grace's novel Tu, a sweeping saga following the Maori battalion into war, was presented the Deutz Medal for Fiction or Poetry by Prime Minister Helen Clark at last night's prestigious Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
Auckland writer Douglas Lloyd Jenkins won the Montana Medal for Non Fiction for his book, At Home:A Century of New Zealand Design.
Grace and Jenkins win $15,000 in prize money, while all category winners in the awards receive $5000.
The award judges, former publisher Graham Beattie and writers John McCrystal and Laura Kroetsch, said Tu had cemented Grace as one of the country's finest contemporary writers.
Tu was inspired by her father's own diary, and several scenes are taken directly from his accounts.
"The novel is both accessible and subtly intellectual.
"It tells a simple story which has as its heart the devastation of war, the long reach of racism, and the too vivid parallels experienced by Maori when serving the Empire in Europe," the judges said.
"All this is done without ever distracting from the story, a poignant tale of a family negotiating the Second World War.
"It is the author's careful construction of her characters, and her willingness to allow for these characters' complex and confused identities, that sets this novel apart. The voices Grace has created ... stayed with the judges long after they had finished reading the book."
Earlier this month Grace was named an Icon of art, music and literature by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.
There can be only 20 living icons at any one time.
Grace said she had no hesitation accepting the Icon award as it was chosen by her peers.
Born and educated in Wellington, Grace began writing while teaching in North Auckland and raising seven children.
She was awarded the Queen's Service Order in 1988 and an honorary doctorate of literature from Victoria University in 1989.
She has stated she gets her ideas from "what goes on about me, from what I hear, see, smell, taste, and from all aspects of life".
AND THE WINNERS ARE ...
Deutz Medal for Fiction or Poetry and Fiction category winner:
Tu by Patricia Grace (Penguin Books).
Montana Medal for Non-Fiction and History category winner
At Home: A Century of New Zealand Design by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins (Godwit).
Nice Morning For It, Adam by Vincent O'Sullivan (Victoria University Press).
Chronicle of the Unsung by Martin Edmond (Auckland University Press).
Reference & Anthology
The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary edited by Tony Deverson & Graeme Kennedy (Oxford University Press).
Lifestyle & Contemporary Culture
Hip Hop Music in Aotearoa by Gareth Shute (Reed Publishing).
Tiritiri Matangi: A Model of Conservation by Anne Rimmer (Tandem Press).
Handboek: Ans Westra Photographs by Luit Bieringa and Lawrence McDonald (BWX).
Readers' Choice Award
Made in Morocco: A Journey of Exotic Tastes and Places by Julie Le Clerc and John Bougen (Penguin Books).
Best first book awards:
New Zealand Society of Authors Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction
Julian Novitz, My Real Life and Other Stories (Vintage).
New Zealand Society of Authors Jessie Mackay Best First Book Award for Poetry
Sonja Yelich, Clung (Auckland University Press).
The New Zealand Society of Authors E.H. McCormick Best First Book Award for Non-Fiction
Douglas Wright, Ghost Dance (Penguin Books).
Reviewer and review page or programme awards:
Best Review Page or Programme
North & South magazine.
Reviewer of the Year
Wellington writer Tony Simpson.