Whanganui writer Airini Beautrais has won New Zealand's biggest writing prize.
Beautrais was announced the winner of the $57,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2021 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in Auckland on Wednesday night.
Beautrais' Bug Week is the first short story collection to win the major prize in more than a decade and only the second in the awards' 53-year history.
The collection was described as a "knockout" by convener of judges Kiran Dass.
Well-known as a poet, Beautrais' first book of fiction was published by Victoria University Press last year.
"Casting a devastating and witty eye on humanity at its most fallible and wonky, this is a tightly-wound and remarkably assured collection," Dass said.
"Atmospheric and refined, these stories evoke a strong sense of quiet unease, slow-burning rage and the absurdly comic."
In March when Beautrais was shortlisted for the prize she said she was delighted to have her work recognised.
"It is something you do alone so it is nice when it has been read and people respond positively to your work," she said at the time.
She teaches health science at UCOL, has a PhD in creative writing and credits her study with helping her challenge traditional story forms.
"I think we have tight genre boundaries to make library and bookstore shelving, and award categories, manageable," she said in conversation with the other fiction finalists on the Academy of New Zealand Literature website.
"But I like to think as writers we have the freedom to blur the distinctions and just make what we want to make."
The awards ceremony was an Auckland Writers Festival marquee event held in the Aotea Centre.
Beautrais received the prize ahead of acclaimed novelists Catherine Chidgey and Pip Adam, both previous winners, and Brannavan Gnanalingam, shortlisted for the fiction prize in 2018.
Guest international fiction co-judge and award-winning novelist Tommy Orange was impressed by "the beauty, and singular language" of Beautrais' writing.
"If the book were a bug, it would be a big one, with teeth and venom, with wings and a surprising heart, possibly several, beating on every page with life."
The prize adds to a list of accolades for Beautrais.
Her first book of poetry, Secret Heart, was published in 2006 and was named Best First Book of Poetry at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards the following year.
She has published three other books - Western Line (2011), Dear Neil Roberts (2014) and Flow: Whanganui River Poems (2017).
Dear Neil Roberts was longlisted at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, and Beautrais was also nominated for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize and won the Landfall Essay Prize in that same year.