The “worthy and admirable winner” of New Zealand’s richest short story competition has been announced, taking home $10,000. Anna Woods from Auckland was named winner of the 2023 Sargeson Prize with her short story ‘Pig Hunting’ on Saturday evening as part of the 20th Annual Frank Sargeson Memorial Lecture at the University of Waikato. She also receives a two-week summer writing residency at the Sargeson Centre in Auckland.
Chief Judge Vincent O’Sullivan says, “Anna’s piece could not be more convincingly set in a compellingly detailed New Zealand. Its language is exact. Line by line, it is a triumph of restrained but focused style, honed for what it has to do. ‘Pig Hunting’ is there with ‘Millie’, one of Katherine Mansfield’s few ‘backblocks’ stories. It shares the same sense of growing pressure and remoteness and carries a comparable ambiguity until a final psychological clarity that challenges so much of what went before.”
Anna says that the inspiration for the story came from a short break in a small town in the North Island.
“I have entered the Sargeson Prize every year since the prize started, so to win is a huge honour and milestone.”
The competition was also open to secondary school students, whose writing Vincent describes as unexpectedly mature.
“The students showed a sophistication in dealing with relationships, with family cross currents and with the constant challenge to personal values against conventions and current pressures that were light years in advance of either Sargeson’s generation or my own,” says Vincent.
“I was also struck by the deftness of the writing, the awareness of craft and its demands, the commitment to language that is good fiction’s driving force. It takes some writers a lifetime to know that. Here were teenagers who acknowledged that already.”
‘The Catastrophe of Swimming’, written by Tunmise Adebowale of St Hilda’s Collegiate School in Dunedin, was the winning entry in the Secondary Schools Division. Vincent remarked that he loved the subtlety and lightness of the tale, saying that it was a delight to read.
“‘The Catastrophe of Swimming’ deeply intrigued me. Not because it was about colonisation and its legacy, which to some extent it was, but because, in a sense, it assumed that as a given, with no need to hammer it home, allowing the story that it carried to be narrated delicately, humorously, a fairly casual event, even.”
As the Secondary Schools Division winner, Tunmise receives $2000 and a one-week summer writing residency at the University of Waikato, which includes mentoring, accommodation and meals. Tunmise says that winning the secondary school prize is an exciting opportunity to continue to hone her writing.
“If it weren’t for the encouragement from my friends and teachers, I wouldn’t have entered the prize this year.”
“Winning the prize and the writing residency with the University of Waikato means so much. I’m looking forward to challenging myself and improving my skills further.”
University of Waikato Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and accomplished author Catherine Chidgey says the annual Sargeson Prize is a wonderful opportunity to highlight the talent and diversity of writers around the country.
“We received close to 1100 entries this year across the two categories, and it’s a delight to see new writers taking on the challenge alongside established names,” says Catherine.
The winning stories will be published by ReadingRoom, the literary branch of Newsroom. Entries for the 2024 competition open on 1 April 2024.