Dr Peter Kocan wins the 2010 Australia Council Writer’s Emeritus Award

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.

14 thoughts on “Dr Peter Kocan wins the 2010 Australia Council Writer’s Emeritus Award

  1. I’m interested to see how many of the previous awardees (is that a word?) have been women. I wonder if that has something to do with the literary field suddenly realisng “oops, women do exist and can write moderately well sometimes, how about we recognise a couple with awards before they shuffle off this mortal coil”?

    And if that sounds cynical, well… remember who my father is 😛

    • That is cynical! But could be true…unfortunately I can’t seem to find the full list of previous winners that I saw last year. The site looks completely different and there seems to be nowhere a complete listing. I think I might contact them for a list.

  2. The Treatment and The Cure is an amazing book. It’s reviewed over at my blog if you are interested. Wonderful to see him get this long-delayed recognition (and the money).

  3. I saw this on the news last night. Sue, you might be embarrassed to have not read any of his writing. I was embarrassed at never having heard of him (or this award I suspect). It’s an intriguing story though. And I was growing up 20 minutes away from where he was locked up in Morriset.

    • It is an intriguing story … I should have thought of you when I saw he was in Morriset. I knew the name but must say I wouldn’t have been able to name any of the works, so I’m not far ahead.

      I had heard of the award though … but it does get very little recognition. the Australia Council could do a bit more to promote it I think – even their website is very poor on it (and seems to have got worse since I first started looking at it a year or so ago).

  4. I read Guy’s review and it all sounds a bit bleak to me – but probably compelling once you get into it. I would guess the $50,000 would be very welcome to him at the age of 65 – writers rarely have invested much in superannuation schemes.

  5. I’d heard of him and that he was a poet, but I didn’t know he’d written a novel. This level of under-recognition suggests he could also have been eligible for the Patrick White award. I wonder if we’ll start seeing this book in the bookshops now?

    • Thanks Lisa. Yes, probably – re the Patrick White Award I mean! He’s actually written a few novels – won the Christina Stead award once, and was shortlisted another time for it and the Queensland Premiers one. Let’s hope some re-releases do come out now but I don’t think I’d be holding my breath!

  6. What I don’t understand is how this happens. A novelist good enough to be published a few times has such a low profile that people like me who haunt the indie bookshops never even hear of it. Sales must be pitiful, and yet the publisher goes on supporting the writer. This is a good thing of course – but why don’t they ratchet up the publiicty a bit? It must be so discouraging for the author.

    • Exactly … I guess it’s saying there are a lot of authors out there and even we cognisant people just can’t keep track of them all. I do find it astonishing, too, though. And yet, Guy over there in the US had come across him? Interesting eh?

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