For the first time in the history of the New Zealand Book Awards, an international judge will help to choose the winner of the coveted fiction category.

Canadian author Madeleine Thien, whose novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing was shortlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize, joins local judges Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb, Jill Rawnsley and Peter Wells to decide who will win the country's richest fiction prize.

Novelists Catherine Chidgey (The Wish Child), Owen Marshall (Love as a Stranger), Emma Neale (Billy Bird) and C.K. Stead (The Name on the Door is not Mine) are contenders for the $50,000 Acorn Fiction Prize.

Their names were revealed yesterday when the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards shortlist was released.

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The 16 finalists were selected from 150 entries.

Ashleigh Young, a poet and writer originally from Te Kuiti, was this month announced as one of the recipients of a US$165,000 ($230,000) Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize.

New Zealand Book Awards Trust chairwoman Nicola Legat says the decision to include an international judge for the fiction category was in response to local writers.

Legat says they have long wished for an international judge to ensure decisions are free of "old histories, personal enmities or fixed points of view".

"It doesn't in any way demean the work our fiction judges have done."

Having an international judge will be a permanent fixture of the annual awards. That person will be chosen from writers attending the Auckland Writers Festival which now begins with the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards ceremony.

However, Legat says the other three categories will continue to be judged by locals.

The winners (including of the four Best First Book awards) will be announced at the Aotea Centre on May 16 while the writers attending Auckland Writers Week will be known next week.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are the country's premier literary honours for works written by New Zealanders and were started in 1968 as the Wattie Book Awards.

Other category finalists are

Poetry

Fale Aitu: Spirit House by Tusiata Avia
Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird
Fits & Starts by Andrew Johnston
This Paper Boat by Gregory Kan

Illustrated non-fiction

A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes
New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, the People by Warren Moran
Ann Shelton: Dark Matter, edited by Zara Stanhope and managing editor Clare McIntosh
Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-1953 by Peter Simpson

Royal Society Te Aparangi Award for General Non-Fiction
This Model World: Travels to the Edge of Contemporary Art by Anthony Byrt
My Father's Island by Adam Dudding
The Big Smoke: New Zealand Cities, 1840-1920 by Ben Schrader
Can You Tolerate This? By Ashleigh Young