As part of the 2015 Melbourne Writers Festival, on Saturday 22 August a suite of literary awards supported by the Australian Centre and Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne were awarded to students and emerging and established writers in the fields of creative, history, poetry and life writing.
The six national literary awards were presented to seven winners from across Australia and New Zealand.
The winners are:
Affirm Press Creative Writing Prize
Professional editorial assistance and writing space for best adult genres manuscript open to University of Melbourne students and graduates.
Presented by Martin Hughes, Publishing Director at Affirm Press.
Winner: Tobias McCorkell for draft manuscript Barely Anything.
Citation: Congratulations to Tobias McCorkell, winner of the 2015 Affirm Press Creative Writing Prize for an excerpt from his novel Barely Anything. Set in Melbourne, this work follows the lives of four twenty-something’s through the parties, bars, clubs and city streets of a new millennium. Tobias’s work has been praised for its strong narrative voice and the ambition of his multidimensional story, as it explores the tensions between privilege, sex and boredom on both sides of the Yarra River. Tobias is currently completing a PhD in contemporary Australian Literature at The University of Melbourne.
The Wesley Michel Wright Prize
$4,000 for poetry in English by an Australian poet.
Presented by Associate Professor Justin Clemens, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne.
Winner: David Stavanger for extracts from The Special.
Citation: David Stavanger’s poems are direct, immediate, funny. Yet a bonfire of loss is constantly threatening to burst from his careful tinder of familiar or domestic moments. Even the brief, understated poems project an epic sweep and violence: any reader could easily fall victim to this guerrilla lyricism. In poems such as ‘optimism,’ each line adds another layer of terror to the last, while the prose poetry of ‘nobody whistles in the dark’ builds to a noir climax by shifting images with a staccato syntax. Sentences start like they’re straightforward, then suddenly swerve to the surreal and back again. In Stavanger’s work, postures cut themselves down in the very gesture with which they are made, just as mouths end up ‘full of fingerprints/bullets without a hole.’ An utterly unique voice, nobody walks the ‘dead dog to the cemetery’ like David Stavanger.
Highly Commended: L.K. Holt, extracts from Keeps
With a density of figure and allusion rarely paralleled in contemporary Australian poetry, L.K. Holt creates poems that are at once highly personal and rigorously theoretical, at once ekphrastic and existential. She is capable of describing a shark with the same intricate fascination as she does an intimate moment or a famous sculpture, encounters which rouse her ‘to blood-belting/action,’ that of writing itself.
Highly Commended: Sarah Holland-Batt, extracts from The Hazards
Sarah Holland-Batt’s intense lyrics describe the natural world with sharp vivacity, as they simultaneously incise the presence of loss and death. With a sensitive and subtle ear, she can invoke Bishop or Heaney or Hughes or Larkin or Lowell, while always tending towards her own singular vision. ‘But this morning I saw a young rabbit/hunched in brush and shadow,’ she writes, ‘It had caught the disease/we brought here for it…’ The beauty and violence of the natural world entwines with an emotional universe.
The Dinny O’Hearn Fellowship
$5,000 and residency at The Australian Centre for an emerging Australian writer of fiction, poetry or drama.
Presented by Professor Ken Gelder, Director, The Australian Centre.
Winner: Anupama Pilbrow for her suite of poems titled The Ravage Space.
Citation: The judges agreed that these poems were both compelling and of a remarkably high standard. They spoke to an Australian/South Asian diaspora, to street life and the life of things and people, of relationships, past lives and futures. The poems were formally and linguistically fascinating, mixing English with Hindi and Marathi phrases with the aim – as some excellent accompanying notes put it – of ‘reframing pluralism as the cultural norm’. This is inventive, thoughtful and vibrant work. The judges look forward to the publication of this collection and are certain it will be met with critical acclaim.
The Ernest Scott Prize
$7,500 (each) awarded for a work in Australian, New Zealand or colonial history.
Presented by Professor Kate Darian-Smith, Head of History, Faculty of Arts.
Joint Winners: Alan Atkinson for The Europeans in Australia: Volume 3: Nation, and
Tom Brooking for Richard Seddon, King of God’s Own: The Life and Times of New Zealand’s Longest-Serving Prime Minister.
Citation (Alan Atkinson): In the third and final volume of his history of The Europeans in Australia, Alan Atkinson pursues his inquiry into relationships between community and communication in Australia during the period between 1870 and the end of the First World War. The idea of ‘Australia’ nourished the hopes of those who judged their progress in moral or spiritual terms as it took shape in ways political, especially in the process of federation.
Showing how maps made people think differently, reading lessons changed accents and telephones connected voices, Atkinson’s work is akin to a ‘bottom up’ Australian version of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. He enables us to sense change through evolving notions of manhood and womanhood, and moves nimbly between colonies and schools, families and parliaments, Aboriginal-White frontier violence and urban clubs. All the while, he says, Australians were feeling their way towards a marriage between continental nationhood and moral purpose. Nation is organised mostly by considering Australians wondering and striving in relation to Enlightenment ideals in their distinctive circumstances. Atkinson turns to lead figures in this wrestle, such as Alfred Deakin and Rose Scott, and joins them with glimpses of Australia as seen from regional newspapers, medical pamphlets, and diverse other sources. His great skill in exposing and reflecting on different forms of Australian conversation is to invite us into the realms by which Australians understood themselves and the times in which they lived. He achieves intimacy with his many characters by giving them their voices and by standing, as an author, in a close and sympathetic listening position. The result is a rich, and often audible, vista of humanity.
Citation (Tom Brooking): Tom Brooking has produced a handsome, richly illustrated biography of Richard Seddon, New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Minister (1893-1906) and arguably the country’s greatest leader. As Brooking shows in detail, Seddon was a defining leader through times of policy reform that did much to define the social contract in New Zealand. He was not always the primary agent of change, and followed slowly rather than led the move towards the vote for women, but his dedication to reducing inequality and building a robust role for the state in this ongoing task was unstinting. It extended to important infrastructure such as the railways, institutions such as the Bank of New Zealand, and polices ranging from pensions and housing to energy and environmental protection.
One of Seddon’s great strengths was his preparedness to strike out on foot through the electorates, and engage with those who would seek to speak with him. He was a big man, and through the pages of this big, meticulously-researched book (including a rich, 36-page Bibliography) we feel his strides. The strong connection with people underpinned his transformation into popular and even populist leader. As Brooking shows, he was always solidly grounded too, in his formative experiences of growing up in a rugged masculine environment and cutting his political teeth by championing miners’ rights (while developing an enduring hostility to Chinese immigrants) and better education, roads and services for the west coast.
Seddon was known for his dedication to family, and a talking point was his appointment of his daughter Mary Stuart as his private secretary. As Brooking makes clear, his wife Louisa, Mary Stuart and five other daughters, played quiet but important roles in relation to women’s suffrage and other issues.
Brooking’s book-ends, his reflections on how Seddon measures up against others for the claim to being New Zealand’s greatest Prime Minister, are perhaps unnecessary. This is a biography fit for the ‘King of God’s Own’
The Peter Blazey Fellowship
$15,000 to further a work in progress in biography, autobiography or life-writing.
Presented by Professor Ken Gelder, Director, The Australian Centre.
Winner: Julia Leigh for Avalanche
Citation: Julia Leigh’s submission to the Blazey Fellowship was an extract from her forthcoming autobiographical work Avalanche, a frank, touching and beautifully written account of her experiences with IVF. The extract chronicles her decision to undergo treatment, built around her Need for what she calls ‘Sweet dark purpose’. It folds a sophisticated and sometimes clinically detached view of the effects of medical processes on women into an intensely personal narrative to do with loss, hope and longing. The extract is a series of exquisitely constructed scenes that immerse the reader into the choices she makes and the challenges she faces.
The Kate Challis RAKA Award
$20,000 for the best book of poems by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Presented by Philip Morrissey, Head of Australian Indigenous Studies, Faculty of Arts.
Winner: Lionel G Fogarty for Mogwie-Idan: Stories of the Land
Citation: Lionel Fogarty’s book of poetry Mogwie-Idan: Stories of the Land stood out to the judges for the sheer power of the poetry from first to last page. This is the poetry of a mature, confident poet, rich and inventive with language and viewpoint. It is a wide-ranging literary intervention into Australian history and culture. The poetry ranges, in hybrid style, across trans-historical themes in assertive, provocative, defiant, satirical and brilliant verse that gives readers the sense that they will come back to the poems time and time again, and there will still be more to decipher and understand. There is highly inventive twisting and tangling of words such as in the line: ‘Even bulldogs British the law’ condenses colonization into one succinct line. The poems are a radical critique of settlement – ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘white explorers’ and ‘untribal man singing songs’ – but are also addressed, perhaps too hopefully, ‘to all open-minded people’.
Thank you and acknowledgements were made to Donors of the prizes and fellowships, Arts Prizes office and staff, School of Culture and Communication and Arts Faculty for supporting the event at the Melbourne Writers Festival.