How to make a bird
Steve Braunias is the editor of Newsroom’s books department, ReadingRoom, and is a featured writer at the NZ Herald. He has written 10 books including two published in 2021, Missing Persons (a true crime collection) and Cover Story (an illustrated tale of 100 weird, beautiful and disturbing New Zealand album covers).
The writer dressed as a bird attends the Ockham Awards
brocade, chiffon and feathers, many of feathers – really the only topic that has been talked about in relation to the Ockham New Zealand National Book Awards 2022 in recent weeks is the costume that shortlisted writer Whiti Hereaka will be wearing at the awards ceremony, which is held today evening at the Q Theater in Auckland. She goes as wearable art. She goes as fiction. She stars as Kurangaituku, the title character of her novel, which was shortlisted for tonight’s $60,000 Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction.
The novel is a retelling of the ancient myth, or Pūrākau, of Kurangaituku, the bird-woman of the island of Mokoia. Description, Te Ao Hau, 1965: “This woman had wings on her arms and claws instead of fingers. Her lips were long and hard and pointed, like a bird’s beak.” Or something like that; Whiti had her own vision of what Kurangaituku looked like when she wrote the book and has been working for the past few weeks to bring that vision to life in a spectacular costume that she will wear to the awards ceremony.
ReadingRoom has followed her outfit progress with regular updates every Friday as part of the Nielsen Best Sellers list. The author has posted photos of her costume to the Twitter machine via her @WHereaka account, helpfully tagged them #ockhamoutfit and given ReadingRoom permission to use them to illustrate the bestseller chart – Kurangaituku hovered around #3 and #4 for best-selling novel since the shortlist was announced on March 2nd.
That was also the date Whiti came to work. I called her last week and asked how the costume looked. “Almost finished. Almost done,” she said. “I will be clothed.”
Are there tail feathers?
“Yes. I have this skirt that I made out of chiffon and it has shabby parts that look like feathers.
What kind of bird does she look like?
“In the book, I thought she looked a bit like a kotuku. Because this bird is so rare to see and it is also so impressive. So her face and wings are very kotuku even though she has a human/kotuku face, so her eyes are probably forward rather than sideways like a kotuku, and her torso is human too. Probably her thighs and legs would be back on Vogel, and I imagine she would have to be a bit stronger, like a kiwi with those strong forest feet.”
Does the outfit tell its own kind of narrative?
“Yes. I have these very long things on my elbows because I wanted to evoke the idea of wings, but not too literally. Because I wanted to evoke the duality of the book cover itself. And so I used the same colors as the book covers – the outfit is almost like the book is spread out, so you have the red spine and the black and white of the cover.”
How did she create the mask?
“I found a pattern ages ago while looking for leather masks. I don’t know what I was looking for. I just thought, ‘That would be cool to do that one day.’ And then when the shortlist was announced I thought this might be my only chance to go to the Ockhams I’m not doing that now Maybe so why not celebrate by overdoing it a bit?
“I also think we need a little frivolity and fun. The last few years have been a bit bleak. I enjoy the process of making it and it’s an opportunity to have fun with the image.”
The result will walk – or fly – through the doors of the Q Theater tonight.
In the meantime Kurangaituku The novel is among 16 books shortlisted for the Ockhams to be offered all in one incredible prize draw exclusive to ReadingRoom. The closing date for entries is tonight, May 11, at 6 p.m.
ReadingRoom will publish the results of the winners sometime after 6pm with expert commentary.
Good luck to everyone who enters the prize draw; Best of luck, even more, to the authors, publishers, editors and everyone closely involved in the making of the 16 books competing for awards at the 2022 Ockham New Zealand National Book Awards. It’s a great achievement to even get this far. The rest is left to the whims and calculations of the judges. It is amazing how often they get it wrong and act like fools and botched idiots, but sometimes they are right and exercise considerable wisdom and taste; In any case, they can only do their best and their decision is final. The selection list is as follows; Congratulations to everyone who created these 16 excellent books.
BOOKSELLER AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND AWARD FOR ILLUSTRATED CAUSE
Changing Reasons: Deep Stories by Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland by Lucy Mackintosh (Bridget Williams Books)
The Architect and Artists: Hackshaw, McCahon, Dibble by Bridget Hackshaw (Massey University Press)
Dressed: Fashionable dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910 by Claire Regnault (Te Papa Press)
NUKU: Stories from 100 Indigenous Women by Qiane Matata-Sipu (QIANE+co)
JANN MEDLICOTT EICHEL PRIZE FOR FICTION
Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka (Huia Publishing)
Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly (Te Herenga Waka University Press)
entanglement by Bryan Walpert (Mākaro Press)
Have a good winter by Gigi Fenster (text publisher)
GENERAL NON-FICTIONAL PRIZE
The mirror book by Charlotte Grimshaw (Penguin Random House)
Voices from the New Zealand Wars | He Reo nō ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa by Vincent O’Malley (Bridget Williams Books)
From the Center: A Writer’s Life by Patricia Grace (Penguin, Penguin Random House)
The Alarmist: Fifty Years of Measuring Climate Change by Dave Lowe (Te Herenga Waka University Press)
MARY AND PETER BIGGSY AWARD FOR POETRY
Rangikura by Tayi Tibble (Te Herenga Waka University Press)
The sea goes into a wall by Anne Kennedy (Auckland University Press)
sleeping with stones by Barford Series (Anahera Press)
fall by Joanna Preston (Otago University Press)