Some literary awards tend to fall somewhat under the radar, and one of these is the Australia Council‘s Writer’s Emeritus Award – even though it’s a fairly generous one: $50,000. This is one of those lifetime awards; it is given to a writer over 65 years old* (hence, I suppose, the “emeritus”) for “exceptional contribution to Australian writing”. Previous winners include well-known and lesser known writers, such as: Eleanor Dark, Ray Lawler, Barbara Jefferis, Christina Stead, Barry Oakley, Margaret Scott and Judith Wright McKinney.
I’m embarrassed to say, though, that I haven’t read this year’s winner, Peter Kocan. He is an interesting fella! In 1966, when he was 19 years old, he was found guilty of the attempted assassination of the then Federal Government Opposition Leader, Arthur Calwell, resulting in a prison sentence and a place in an institution for the criminally insane. It seems that he managed to turn that experience into an opportunity and took up writing in 1967. He has published novels, plays and poetry (with his first two poetry collections being published while he was still in prison). Much of his writing is, apparently, autobiographical, and therefore deals with prison life, mental health, and post-prison alienation.
He is a writer I am going to look out for …
*Note: I think this age definition must have been dropped in recent years as Kocan was born in 1947. Presumably though it is still intended for “older” writers.
POSTSCRIPT: Guy of His Futile Preoccupations has written an excellent, thorough review of Kocan’s novel, The treatment and the cure. It’s well worth reading if you’d like a sense of Kocan and his writing.