Results - 2022 Sargeson Prize

In 2022, we received 960 entries in the Open Division and 165 in the Secondary Schools Division; a total of 1125 stories.

Open Division Winners

First Place

Leeanne O'Brien (Piha): 'Crawl Space'
This story was published on ReadingRoom (15 October 2022)

"My father opens the door. I hesitate. He’s not who usually answers when I knock. He doesn’t step back to let me in and takes forever to say my name. Then he repeats it several times, me nodding along, the way you do with a child struggling to pronounce a difficult word."

Leeanne O'Brien has a BSc in Geology and Geophysics. She is a lawyer who has worked as a legislative drafter for the last 20 years. She has been shortlisted twice in the New Zealand Flash Fiction competition (2022 and 2019) and was also the 2019 Auckland regional prizewinner.

She was runner-up in the 2016 takahē Short Story Competition. She has had a small piece published in the 2020 volume of Mayhem. In 1972 she was the Mt Roskill Swim Club Under 8 Girls Champion.

Second Place

Emily Perkins (Wellington): 'The Warning'
This story was published on ReadingRoom (22 October 2022)

"But in the bathroom a creeping feeling came over her as soon as she looked in the mirror. People put cameras in places like this. She’d read about it. He was exactly the type to put a camera behind the mirror. Don’t ask how she knew – she just knew."

Photo credit: Ebony Lamb

Emily Perkins’ first book was the short story collection Not Her Real Name, published in 1996. She has written five novels, including Novel About My Wife, The Forrests, and the forthcoming Lioness. Her books have won awards in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States.

Her writing for stage and screen includes the original play The Made (2022) and an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, both with Auckland Theatre Company. Together with director Alison Maclean she adapted Eleanor Catton’s novel The Rehearsal into a feature film.

Emily is co-editor of The Fuse Box, a collection of essays on the writing process. She has taught creative writing for a number of years, most recently at the International Institute of Modern Letters, and her broadcasting work includes presenting The Book Show and The Good Word on TVNZ7.

Emily is an Arts Foundation Laureate and in 2017 was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature.

Third Place

Stephen Coates (Japan): 'Brendon Varney Opens the Door'
This story was published on ReadingRoom (29 October 2022)

"Now, in the foreground, right at the edge of the frame, I am drawing Brendon Varney. I am drawing him from behind, because I am not good at faces. I am using the faintest of lines, since he is not sure if he wants to be there. Only the back of his head is visible, and one shoulder."

Stephen Coates comes from Christchurch, where ‘Brendon Varney Opens the Door’ is set. Although he has been living in Japan for many years, he still definitely thinks of himself as a New Zealand writer. His stories have appeared in Landfall, takahē and Headland, as well as various overseas journals (mainly the US). While he is full of admiration for novelists who can think up several hundred pages of plot, his brain seems to be hard-wired for short stories. He tells himself that this is not because he has a short attention span – in fact, a 1,500-word story can take him months or even years to finish (his record is over 25 years between first draft and publication). The main reason he is drawn to short stories is that he loves the discipline required, where every word matters. He is also a firm believer in Terry Pratchett’s maxim that ‘Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself.’

Highly Commended

Kate Duignan (Wellington): 'Sugar'

Kirsty Gunn (United Kingdom): 'Transgression'

Dr Himali McInnes (Auckland): 'Stripes'

Rob Fisherman (Palmerston North): 'The Jazz Packers'

Liz Breslin (Dunedin): 'Baba Jaga: Redux'

Dara Flaws (Wellington): 'The Last Night'

Secondary Schools Division Winners

First Place

Shima Jack (Logan Park High School): 'Fourth Wall'
This story was published on ReadingRoom (5 November 2022)

"He still spouted the same kind of rubbish he used to. He always came up with weird words for normal things – the seagulls which gathered in front of us were ‘sea chickens’, the bench a ‘people-shelf’, a downy feather by his feet which he kicked at was a ‘bird-leaf’."

Shima Jack is a Year 13 student at Logan Park High School in Dunedin. She is the founder and one of the coordinators of the Dunedin Youth Writers Association, and a co-editor of the group’s monthly writing anthology Minor Gospel. Her writing draws inspiration from music, art, film, theatre, science, and personal experience.

Shima placed third equal in the 2021 Poetry New Zealand Yearbook poetry competition, first in the 2021 Sargeson Prize Secondary Schools Division, second in the 2022 Charles Brasch Essay Competition, and has been included in 2019, 2020 and 2021 Re-Draft editions. She was also selected to participate in the 2022 NZSA Youth Mentorship Programme.

Second Place

Maggie Yang (Kristin School): 'Breaking up, breaking down'

"I wonder what my mother will think when she wakes up and realises I’m not home. The awful things I said last night sit, like plump little buddhas, chanting at how awful I am to make her worry. But I can’t change for her, not this time, not again."

Maggie Yang is a seventeen-year-old Chinese-New Zealander and attends Kristin School. Since she has learnt to read, she has never stopped, and she fell in love with langauge and writing. Although she has been writing since she was young, the Sargeson Prize competition is one of the first she has submitted her work to.

Maggie finds inspiration in everything she sees and experiences; slowly, small ideas build up until some fit together to form a story. This short story originated from two ideas: the tragedy of people falling out of love, and the oftentimes painful relationship between the art and the artist. When Maggie saw her old pointe shoes, this story was born.

Third Place

Reema Arsilan (Hauraki Plains College): 'A Half-Truth is a Lie'

"When I swear in Arabic it’s a prayer. When I pray it’s a lie. It feels wrong for me to use this tongue; I’m clumsy and uncertain and it doesn’t feel natural in my mouth the way it should. I’m a liar."

Reema Arsilan is eighteen years old and is a Year 13 at Hauraki Plains College. She has always loved words, and has been an avid reader and writer for most of her life. The endless support of teachers, family and friends has really encouraged her to keep writing and sharing her work, with this year being the first year she has submitted any of it to competitions.

Reema enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction, and hopes to continue developing her style and technique as she writes. She will be attending university in 2023, and intends to keep writing the stories she would want to read.

Highly Commended

Ella Sage (Westland High School): 'Face in the Space'

Beth Allwood (Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu): 'Her Garden'

Ana Faville (Palmerston North Girls' High School): 'Mr Sandman'

Ella Quarmby (Ōtūmoetai College): 'Syll-a-bles'

Minna Zhu (Wakatipu School): 'Melody'