Monday musings on Australian literature: Hazel Rowley Literary Fund

It seemed appropriate to talk about the Hazel Rowley Literary Fund this week given that several commenters on my review of Christina Stead‘s For love alone mentioned Rowley’s well-regarded biography of Christina Stead. Quite coincidentally – amazing how often such coincidences occur isn’t it – AustLit posted on their blog last week a piece titled The names behind our literary awards #1: Hazel Rowley. Today’s post was clearly meant to be.

For those of you who don’t know, Hazel Rowley was one of Australia’s most respected biographers. Christina Stead: A biography, published in 1993, was her first biography. It won the National Book Council’s “Banjo” Award for non-fiction. Her next biography published in 2001 was on the African-American writer, Richard Wright, whose book Native son is on my TBR, courtesy of my daughter. This was followed by Tête-à-tête: the lives and loves of Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre in 2005, and the biography I have read and reviewedFranklin & Eleanor: an extraordinary marriage, in 2011. Unfortunately, this is where her work ends because Rowley, born in 1951, died in New York of a cerebral haemorrhage in 2011 as that last biography was coming out. What a tragedy – for her, her family, and us. I love the fact that she wasn’t afraid to tackle already well-covered subjects, like Sartre and de Beauvoir, and the Roosevelts. I’m not an expert on the Roosevelts but from my reading I think she did contribute an interesting perspective to the body of work about them.

Anyhow, soon after her death, her friends and family established the Hazel Rowley Literary Fund. It “aims to commemorate Hazel’s life and her writing legacy through activities that support biography and writing in general”. The main vehicle for this is the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship. It  is offered annually and provides up to $10,000  to a writer researching a biography, or “an aspect of cultural or social history compatible with Hazel’s interest areas”. The Fund states that “Preference will be given to projects that are about ‘risk-taking’ and expanding horizons, promote discussion of ideas, and make a significant contribution to public intellectual life”. That’s a big call – but an encouraging one too – particularly given the discussion in last week’s Monday Musings about “commercial imperatives” blocking “artistic ones”. More encouragement of “risk-taking” is what we want. Is it good enough though to rely on private funding to achieve this?

(With thanks to AustLit for the inspiration for this post)

14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Hazel Rowley Literary Fund

  1. My irrelevant thoughts for the day:

    1. Hey that’s me! I’m your daughter!
    2. Really looking forward to your review (?) of Native Son. Is it my UVA copy that you have in the pile? You must also read Maud Martha. It’ll be in my bookcase, if not already in yours.
    3. No one names their daughter Hazel anymore.

  2. True, Hannah. I wonder why it has gone out of fashion. Hazel is a lovely colour.
    I was shortlisted for the Hazel Rowley award in 2012 (the inaugural one) which is when I read Tete-a-tete. My project was a collective biography of Fairbridge single parents and their children, which started in 2010, when I was awarded a grant from the Department of Arts in Western Australia. Sadly, I didn’t get the Rowley award, and the biography is stil unfinished, not so much for that reason as because I came up against an elephant in the room, the question of abuse, and none of my subjects at the time were able or wiling to talk about it. So the book is still hanging; though I’ve had some more input, but have lost the momentum to finish it.

  3. Yes to risk-taking and less commercial imperatives in the writing world. A wonderful initiative but such a sad loss. I’m very curious to read ‘Richard Wright’ as I thoroughly enjoyed Rowley’s biography of Christina Stead and ‘Tête à Tête’ (read under a gum tree in a Corsican camping ground) was compelling.

  4. If you would like a copy of Hazel’s Richard Wright biography, I send them to you if you make a contribution to the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship. Thanks for all your comments about the Fellowship and encouraging risk taking. it is really taking off and becoming well know. Send me an email

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