As part of the 2016 Melbourne Writers Festival, on Sunday 4 September a suite of literary awards was awarded to students and emerging and established writers in the fields of fiction, poetry and life writing, supported by the Australian Centre and Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. Four awards were announced at a ceremony at ACMI, Federation Square, hosted by Ken Gelder, Co-director of the Australian Centre.
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 Kate Goldsworthy, Editor at Affirm Press.
Winner: Benjamin Kunkler for draft manuscript Frankness.
Citation: Ben’s novel in progress, Frankness, deals with the trials and tribulations of an elderly transgender woman who is catapulted into a conventional nursing home by her well-meaning children. Ben is a Creative Writing doctoral student at the University of Melbourne. Kate Goldsworthy, editor at Affirm Press, said ‘I’m looking forward to working with Ben on what looks to be a fascinating novel about a transgender Australian woman and her family throughout a time of great cultural change.’
Double congratulations to Creative Writing doctoral student Benjamin Kunkler who, on the same day, managed to get married and take out the Affirm Press Creative Writing Prize.
The Wesley Michel Wright Prize
$4,000 for poetry in English by an Australian poet.
Presented by Associate Professor Justin Clemens, School of Culture and Communication.Winner: Linda Weste for extracts from Nothing Sacred.
Citation: This sequence of poems exhibits an extraordinary subtlety, erudition, range and vision. Weste revivifies a determining episode from late Republican Rome, in order to present poetically events and characters that resonate uncannily with those of contemporary Australia. The characters are superbly differentiated by modulations of voice; the images and episodes are perfectly chosen and delivered; the narrative is compelling. The judges were particularly impressed by the fact that, despite Weste’s submission being extracts from a verse novel, each of the submitted poems proved compelling in its own right, as well as contributing to the work of the whole: here, the judges unanimously cited the poem ‘Gargantuan’ as emblematic of Weste’s mastery.
Upon accepting the award, Weste said: ‘As a writer, I’m mindful of and grateful for the opportunities this prize affords – the encouragement and support, recognition, and the pride it instils. And as a supporter of the Arts, I’m glad that this prize invests in and celebrates Australian poetry as an artistic and cultural pursuit.’
Highly commended: Ellen Van Neerven for an extract from Comfort Food.
These brief but astonishingly powerful poems shift rapidly between striking images (‘light catches pink/throats of conflict’), a range of vernaculars, and utterances saturated with the implications and effects of European colonialism in Australia. The only reservation that the judges had regarding these poems was that there was not enough of them!
Highly commended: Dan Disney & John Warwicker for Report from a Border.
With an incisiveness and imagination that memorably links contemporary experimental poetic techniques with the most pressing of contemporary political concerns, Disney and Warwicker deploy the full gamut of technical typographical variations — font, size, disposition, and allusion — to present a memorable and often shocking intervention. Vulgarity commingles with commandment, repetition with event, to break open the usual public discourses regarding electronic surveillance and border controls.
Highly commended: Chloe Wilson for extracts from Not Fox Nor Axe.
Wilson’s poems brilliantly accomplish, from within a contemporary tradition of lyric verse, a fusion of seductive imagery with an insight into the sinister aspects of character and history. From the minatory domesticity of ‘Tricoteuses’, where the domestic character of knitting women encounters the guillotines of Revolutionary Terror, to the title poem which captures the mutations of colonial invasion in Mexico, each poem glitters with concentrated affect.
The Peter Blazey Fellowship
$15,000 to further a work in progress in biography, autobiography or life-writing.
Presented by Penny Blazey.
Winner: Eleanor Hogan for Into the Loneliness: The Literary Alliance of Ernestine Hill and Daisy Bates.
Citation: This impeccably researched work provides a captivating account of two famous Australians, Daisy Bates and Ernestine Hill. Both women were heavily implicated in the lives of Indigenous people: Bates was an influential amateur ethnographer and Hill was a popular journalist, author of The Great Australian Loneliness (1937). Eleanor Hogan offers insightful and compelling reflections on their unsteady friendship, their unwavering ambitions, the details of their hard-earned experiences, and the crucial role they both played in giving shape to our colonial legacy.
Highly Commended: Fiona Wright for Homing In.
The judges commend this work as a fascinating and astute investigation of the Australian suburbs, an unflinching chronicle of what it means to live there, and to grow up there. It tells of being shaped by the suburbs and yet excluded from the things they relentlessly prioritise. As her narrative unfolds, Wright also gives us a perceptive and heartfelt account of what it means to be an Australian woman today.
The Kate Challis RAKA Award
$20,000 for the best book of fiction by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Presented by Philip Morrissey, Head of Australian Indigenous Studies, School of Culture and Communication
Winner: Alexis Wright for The Swan Book.
Citation:Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book is a sprawling, magnificent achievement, a remarkable imaginative vision of Australia as it was and is, and will be. Set at some point in the future, in a world utterly changed by global warming, war and the global movement of people, it charts the life of a mute young woman, Oblivian Ethel(ene), beginning with her fraught relationship with an old, enigmatic refugee, Bella Donna of the Champions. The novel is full of mythologies and soaring imagery: the swans, for example, are ever-present and say so much about the predicament of the world they inhabit. At the same time, the novel launches a devastating critique of Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people: condemning the Federal government’s Intervention, and showing us the many ways in which a militarised colonialism has shaped, and continues to shape, Indigenous lives in Australia’s north and across the nation.
Upon accepting the award, Wright said: ‘As an Aboriginal author, I understand the enormous importance and influence of the Kate Challis (RAKA) Award. I believe it is the most prestigious national and international benchmark for the promotion of excellence in Aboriginal art. This is the reason that I feel both extremely humble and also proud that my work was chosen this year for literature, and to know that my work can stand beside those of our most talented and highly recognised artists.’
Highly commended: Jane Harrison Becoming Kirrali Lewis.
Jane Harrison’s novel Becoming Kirrali Lewis is a contemporary urban story about a young Aboriginal woman who goes to university to study law, and finds herself increasingly intrigued by her new Aboriginal friends. Set in inner city Melbourne, Harrison’s first person narrative takes the reader through a series of chance meetings and coincidences and ultimate surprise when Kirrali Lewis discovers the identity of her biological parents. Located within the young adult fiction genre, there are clever twists and humorous asides, and tender unsentimental scenes that bring a light touch to deep themes about identity and heritage.
Highly commended: Ellen Van Neerven Heat and Light
Ellen Van Neerven’s short story collection Heat and Light impressed the judges with her imaginative range and poetic language. There are magical realist, twirling stories of families, love and cars, a futuristic non-human community called the Larapinta and tender lesbian discovery stories. There is fearless and confident writing from an emerging writer.
Thank yous and acknowledgements were made to Donors of the prizes and fellowships, Arts Awards team, School of Culture and Communication and Arts Faculty for supporting the event at the Melbourne Writers Festival.