Winning the 2019 Ockham Book Award for non-fiction has been a "massive boost" for biographer Joanne Drayton.

"It was such a thrill because I felt as if I was losing momentum.

"I was on the New York Best Seller list but to receive this New Zealand award made me feel truly honoured."

Drayton is the keynote speaker for the 2019 Whanganui Literary Festival which begins on September 25. The keynote address is on Friday, October 4.


The Ockham award was for her most recent biography, Hudson and Halls: The Food of Love.

It is the sixth biography she has published and the first about two subjects - TV chefs Peter Hudson and David Halls.

"They had become one entity and David was lost when Peter died.

"He took his own life the following year because it was too hard for him to live without Peter."

Despite the sad ending, the Hudson and Halls story was a tale of triumph, Drayton said.

"They lived their lives to the full and won the hearts of New Zealand audiences by being themselves."

Her previous biography subjects are crime writer Anne Perry (the former Juliet Hulme), crime writer and theatre director Ngaio Marsh, artists Frances Hodgkins, Rhona Haszard and Whanganui's Edith Collier.

Edith Collier: Her Life and Work was Drayton's first book, published in 1999 when she was living in Whanganui and working at Wanganui Polytechnic (now UCOL) lecturing in art history and theory.


It was also the year she curated her first exhibition and the author said it was delightful to be returning 20 years later for the festival.

"That was a magical time in my life and I am very much looking forward to being in Whanganui to remember it."

The modernity of Collier's work enchanted her, she said, and inspired her to learn more about the artist.

"I loved getting to know Edith through meeting members of her family and I walked in her footsteps.

"I visited her attic studio in London and her story really captivated my imagination."

During the Whanganui Literary Festival, Drayton will talk about her experience of writing the Collier biography - what she learnt, and how those lessons helped shape her future career as a writer, bringing her to her latest publishing success.

In addition to writing biographies, Drayton has curated exhibitions and publishes in art history, theory and biography.

In 2007, she was awarded a National Library Fellowship and in 2017 the prestigious Logan Fellowship at the Carey Institute in upstate New York.

Event: Joanne Drayton - The Lives of Others – Being a Biographer, Friday, October 4, 7.30pm, Concert Chamber, Whanganui War Memorial Centre. Admission $15, book at Royal Wanganui Opera House.

The Whanganui Literary Festival 2019 runs from September 25 to October 6. Guest writers are Joanne Drayton, Dame Fiona Kidman, Paul Cleave, Ron Palenski, Leah McFall, Amber Rose, Albert Belz, Corey Mosen and Tina Makereti.