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 reviewed, Franklin & 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)