(RadioNZ) The Maori Book Awards in Palmerston North on Tuesday celebrate a milestones in Maori language publishing.The awards, which have been running for three years, have a fiction category for the first time and a book written entirely in te reo has taken out the Maori language category.

Jacob Tapiata, a senior Maori adviser at Massey University, says the awards take into account the major achievements made by Maori authors during the last 20 years, including the increasing amount of Maori fiction published for sophisticated readers.

The awards were established in 2009 by the university to mark Maori language week and to celebrate and encourage excellence in Maori publishing.

Mr Tapiata says there have been some significant gains in Maori development in a range of areas in the last two or three decades and Maori should feel excited about the literary field.

Mr Tapiata says it is a course of celebration for Maoridom.

Tina Makereti has won the first ever fiction award for Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa, a book of short stories that puts traditional Maori myths and legends into a contemporary context.

Ms Makereti says she is really excited because, in New Zealand, there are very limited ways for fiction to get recognised.

Chris Winitana won the Te Reo Maori award for Toku reo, Toku Ohooho (My Language, My Inspiration), a book about the revitalisation of the Maori language that has also been published in English.

Mr Winitana says because he doesn’t have any sort of degree, he is tickled pink to be in such esteemed company. He says he hopes it opens up the possibility in the minds of other writers who have a passion for their particular subject.

Massey Universities Maori Studies head Robert Jahnke won the arts category with Tirohanga o Mua: Looking Back.

This year’s ceremony also included a special award for Mana Magazine, which published its 100th issue in May 2011.

The awards took place at Massey University in Palmerston North.

Copyright 2011, Radio New Zealand