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The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Just a quick note to let you know that the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlists were announced in Melbourne this morning. The full shortlists are below, but before I get to them I’d make a few very quick observations.

First of all it’s worth noting that this is the first time awards have been offered for Children’s and Young Adult Fiction, and while I’m in no position to make judgements about the books included on those lists I’m pleased to see my old pal from Uni days (and one of the world’s nicest human beings) Andrew Joyner turn up in the children’s list for he and Ursula Dubosarsky’s The Terrible Plop (a book whose title still makes me smile every time I read it).

Then there are the notable omissions. I’m sure others will know their way round the other shortlists better than me, but on the Fiction shortlist, it’s interesting to note the judges have omitted both Peter Temple’s Truth, which won the Miles Franklin Award only a couple of weeks ago, and Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America.

On the flipside it’s interesting to see Deborah Forster’s The Book of Emmett has made this shortlist as well as the Miles Franklin shortlist, which is a pretty serious achievement for a first novel (and one which, to my shame, I still haven’t read).

It’s also refreshing to note how outward looking the Fiction shortlist is: whatever else you can say about the Miles there’s little doubt the “phase of Australian life” term drives an insularity that certainly isn’t evident in this list, which includes books set in Troy, South Africa, France and Moscow.

And finally, I’m delighted to see Coetzee’s Summertime has been included on the Fiction shortlist: neither its author nor his writing are easily accommodated within the national or literary conventions that underpin most Australian literary awards, but if there was a funnier, more intelligent or more audacious book published in Australia in recent years I don’t know what it is.

Anyway, the shortlists are:

J. M. Coetzee, Summertime
Deborah Forster, The Book of Emmett
Alan Gould, The Lakewoman
Eva Hornung, Dog Boy
David Malouf, Ransom
Alex Miller, Lovesong
Alison Wong, As the Earth turns Silver

Michael Cathcart, The Water Dreamers: The Remarkable History of Our Dry Continent
Will Elliott, Strange Places: A Memoir of Mental Illness
Grace Karskens, The Colony: A History of Early Sydney
John Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy
Mark Tredinnick, The Blue Plateau: A Landscape Memoir
Shirley Walker, The Ghost at the Wedding

Young adult fiction
Lucy Christopher, Stolen
Judith Clarke, The Winds of Heaven
Bill Condon, Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God
Cassandra Golds, The Museum of Mary Child
Phillip Gwynne, Swerve
David Metzenthen, Jarvis 24
Gabrielle Williams, Beatle meets Destiny

Children’s fiction
Kate Constable, Cicada Summer
Ursula Dubosarsky and Andrew Joyner (illustrator), The Terrible Plop
Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (illustrator), Just Macbeth
Leigh Hobbs, Mr Chicken goes to Paris
Alison Lester, Running with the Horses
Lorraine Marwood, Star Jumps
Martine Murray and Sally Rippin (illustrator), Mannie and the Long Brave Day
Jen Storer, Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children
Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood (illustrator), Harry and Hopper

More information, including Judges’ comments, is available on the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards website.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. James, I agree that it would be hard to find a funnier, more intelligent, more daring book as Coetzee’s ‘Summertime’. It’s a total corker. One to read and re-read. And then weep at the brilliance of it all.

    July 15, 2010
  2. Adser #

    Glad to hear how much you liked ‘Summertime’ – I’ve found Coetzee too nihilistic in the past. Will give it a crack…

    July 16, 2010
  3. STM #

    “If there was a funnier, more intelligent or more audacious book published in Australia in recent years I don’t know what it is.”

    The same goes for Delia Falconer’s playful review of the book, Just Passing Through, published in the September 2009 edition of the Australian Literary Review, which unfortunately isn’t available online anymore, but which had me in stitches when it was first published. From memory the review was written in third person. Pity there isn’t an award for review writing of that standard.

    July 16, 2010
  4. Lucy Sussex #

    I wondered about Alison Wong’s ‘As the Earth Turns Silver’, as it is a novel of New Zealand life. Wong had an ancestor murdered during a C19th wave of anti-Chinese hysteria, and this novel recreates the milieu and characters superbly. I’d happily give it a prize (but then I’m not on this particular judging panel). As regards the non-fiction list, I’ve already been on a panel that gave an award to Shirley Walker.

    I have been seeing some v. good NZ material lately. Makes me proud of my dual passport status.

    July 17, 2010
  5. Delia #

    Oh, cheers STM! Much appreciated. Summertime is terrific, and I’m not usually a fan.

    This list reminds me that I must get around to reading Dog Boy, which I really wanted to read when it came out.

    It’s very pleasing to see Shirley Walker’s book on the non-fiction list. Such a good story, and so well told.

    July 17, 2010
  6. Thinking about the fiction list yesterday it struck me — and this is without taking anything at all away from any of the books on the list — that the judges might have been making some kind of point in working to distinguish this award from the Miles F (and I am a staunch supporter of the status quo there, but that’s a different discussion) by including so many books that don’t ‘deal with Australian life in any of its phases’ — Ransom, Summertime, Dog Boy, As the Earth Turns Silver and possibly one or more of the others, haven’t read them — and giving them a go at a major prize.

    Delia, I’ve known Shirley Walker for decades, through ASAL, as a good, hard-working academic and mother of two extremely gifted children* (novelist Brenda and best-songwriter-in-the-country Don), and it’s really lovely to see her rocketing up the charts off her own bat with her own books.

    *and early, possibly even inaugural, winner of ASAL’s Frank Moorhouse Perpetual Trophy for Ballroom Dancing

    July 20, 2010
  7. That’s an interesting thesis, though I’m not entirely convinced the judges would have been consciously constructing the list by reference to the Miles: certainly if I was one of them my focus would have been on choosing the best books.

    Interested you’re a supporter of the status quo on the Miles. I’m not exactly certain what my position is. I agree with you at one level, and do get a little irritated by people bitching about the “phase” criterion when it’s part of the original bequest, but I do wonder what Franklin herself would say if she was here now. Surely her desire was to set up an award to celebrate Australian writing, so if we’ve moved on, and the nature and purpose of Australian writing has moved on, she’d want to see the award evolve as well?

    In a way the question is analogous to one of those questions about whether constitutions are legalistic or living documents. I’m not sure either approach is right or wrong, but my feeling is that ultimately what matters is that the Award continue to prosper and live. All of which means that if the Trustees believe the Award is being damaged by the phase criterion then they’re doing the right thing by the award and the memory of its creator by at least seeking advice about whether they’re able to change it.

    All of which I had meant to turn into a post at some point, but now suppose I won’t be . . .

    July 20, 2010
  8. And delighted to see Shirley Walker there as well: it’s a terrific book.

    July 20, 2010

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