Monday musings on Australian literature: What value literary awards?
If you are an Australian reader, you have probably heard that the new Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, has abolished the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. This was a shock as it had not been flagged during the election. His reason? To save some $250,000, as part of the Liberal National Party’s promised cost-cutting drive!
It was a wry moment for me when I heard the news, because only a few days before the announcement, I had pondered in my post about Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature whether, with the Festival becoming an annual event, South Australia would finally have an annual literary award, like most other Australian states.
Queensland’s literary awards program has been running since 1999 and is (hmm, was) one of the most comprehensive literary awards programs in Australia. It offers (offered) prizes in fourteen or fifteen categories, which included unpublished manuscripts, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, unpublished indigenous writers and fiction. Many of our significant writers have benefited from these awards, including Helen Garner, Alexis Wright, Tim Winton, Thea Astley, Nam Le, David Malouf, Judith Beveridge, Peter Carey, and Les Murray.
Australians will know that many of these award winners are not Queenslanders and their winning books were not necessarily about Queensland. Does this matter? All (I think) of Australia’s state-based awards are not state-limited in their criteria. I think that’s a good thing, though I can see arguments for limiting them to their states just as we have awards for women, for young writers, for indigenous writers, for unpublished works. What I don’t think is a good thing is to do away with awards. Awards for creative endeavours are always fraught. There are no objective standards to judge artistic creations by. But, this doesn’t mean they don’t have value – for the winners, for the short- and longlisted authors, and for the industry as a whole.
There are supporters of the decision. One is blogger Mark Fletcher who argues that these awards are “vanity projects” for Premiers and that “there are more significant funding opportunities for the arts in Queensland than the award: the end of the award does not mean the end of arts funding in Queensland”. Opponents, on the other hand, fear that this is the thin end of the wedge and that more cuts to arts funding are coming. Time will tell …
The topic has already been discussed on Australian blogs. Here are just a very few:
- Angela Meyer of LiteraryMinded talks of the value of the prize to writers, publishers and booksellers
- crikey.com calls it a sad announcement
- Jeff Sparrow in Overland argues that this may be the harbinger of more cuts as more conservative governments gain power in Australia. He suggests that ”There’s an urgent need for a new defence of literature, arguments that are neither philistine populism nor patronizing elitism but instead make the case why writing should matter to ordinary people. It’s something we’ve traditionally been very bad at. We need to get much better, very quickly.”
- Lisa Hills of ANZLitLovers advises that the awards will be made with or without prize money and provides the link for submissions.
- skepticlawyer describes plans by authors Matthew Condon and Krissy Kneen to continue the awards, probably using the law of trusts – and provides a link to their Facebook page for the awards.
I think that’s enough. You get the drift I’m sure. But, I wonder, what do you think about Literary Awards. Are they worth defending? What do awards mean to you, as a reader?