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Grace Yee wins Ockhams NZ Book Award for poetry with Chinese Fish

Photo: ABC News – Danielle Bonica

Grace Yee has won the 2024 Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her verse novel and debut book, Chinese Fish. The prize is administered by the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, which were this year announced in May at a ceremony in Auckland.

Yee holds dual citizenship in Australia and New Zealand, with Chinese Fish distributed on both sides of the pond. Earlier this year, the book also won the 2024 Victorian Prize for Literature, Australia’s most generous writing prize worth $100,000.

‘I am thrilled that Chinese Fish has been acknowledged here, in the country where I grew up,’ wrote Yee in her acceptance speech. ‘It is, at its heart, a story about a family that travelled across the seas, arrived in Aotearoa, and had the audacity to call it home.’ The speech was delivered by Paula Morris on Yee’s behalf.

Read the judges’ comments on Chinese Fish below.

Grace Yee’s is a striking aesthetic – it blurs genres, it dances around the page, it crosses languages by fusing Cantonese-Taishanese and English, both official and unofficial. Her craft is remarkable. She moves between old newspaper cuttings, advertisements, letters, recipes, cultural theory, and dialogue. Creating a new archival poetics for the Chinese trans-Tasman diaspora, the sequence narrates a Hong Kong family’s assimilation into New Zealand life from the 1960s to the 1980s, interrogating ideas of citizenship and national identity. It displaces the reader, evoking the unsettledness of migration. In Chinese Fish, Yee cooks up a rich variety of poetic material into a book that is special and strange; this is poetry at its urgent and thrilling best.

Find a roundtable interview featuring all of the Ockhams Poetry finalists published earlier in the week here.

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