Monday musings on Australian literature: Some ad hoc awards
Okay, folks, so it’s Easter Monday here in Australia, and a public holiday. We have had family – from Melbourne and Hobart – up our way for the long weekend and so I’ve not had a lot of time to think about my Monday Musings post. However, a couple of recent literary awards have come to my attention, and are worth sharing – for different reasons.
An overseas award
We Aussies are always excited – yes, I know, cultural cringe – when one of ours wins a foreign award. It was big news when Patrick White won the Nobel Prize in 1973, and we’ve had a few Booker wins. Thomas Keneally won with Schindler’s Ark in 1982, and Peter Carey is one of the few authors to win it twice (Oscar and Lucinda in 1988, and True history of the Kelly Gang in 2001). DBC Pierre and Richard Flanagan have also won the Booker. It was big news too when Kate Grenville won the Orange (now Baileys) Prize with The idea of perfection in 2001.
And now, a couple of weeks ago, I read that Helen Garner had won an award I hadn’t heard of, the 2016 Windham Campbell Prize for Nonfiction. This prize is one of a suite of prizes established in the USA by writer and book collector Donald Windham, named for himself and his partner Sandy Campbell, who shared his passion for books. The Windham Campbell Prizes website describes the aims as being “to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work independent of financial concerns”. From what I can see on the website, the first prizes were awarded in 2013.
As far as I can gather, each year three prizes are awarded in each of three categories: fiction, nonfiction and drama. Garner won one of the 2016 non-fiction prizes. The website describes her as one of Australia’s preeminent writers who “brings acute observations and narrative skill to bear on the conflicts and tragedies of contemporary Australian life”. The site continues that “ultimately, Garner ﬁnds truth in questions rather than in answers, in complexity rather than in simplicity, and in her own fervent belief that ‘there is something wild in humans’.” It also quotes Garner’s response to winning the award:
To be awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction validates in the most marvellously generous way the formal struggles that I’ve been engaged in over the past twenty years. It gives me the heart to keep going.
Not only the heart, but the money too I’m sure, as the prize is worth USD150,000. So often writers say that the money value of prizes enables them to continue writing. This should certainly do that for a year or so!
Supporting the independents
And then last week, Charlotte Wood won the overall 2016 Indie Book Awards with her latest novel The natural way of things. The debut fiction winner was Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek, another book I need to read. These awards (there are other categories too) were created in 2008, and the winners are chosen, through voting, by independent booksellers.
My main aim in mentioning these awards, though, is to share some of Wood’s acceptance speech, which was published on publisher Allen & Unwin’s blog. It’s a thoughtful, generous speech, but its conclusion is inspired, comparing independent booksellers to global seed vaults*. She said:
In thinking about tonight, and Australia’s independent booksellers, it struck me that you are like that seed vault [the Svalbard Global Seed Vault]. You are storehouses for the kernels not only of our literary culture but our history, our music, our food culture, our health and legal and technological culture, our visual arts, our politics. You are the safety vault for the seeds of our country’s cultural and intellectual life, and your customers are the spreaders of those seeds out in the world.
A few years ago, the outlook for our independent bookselling scene looked gloomy. But like those seeds packed into the cold mountain in Norway, you have survived, you are thriving, and because of your noticing and care, your love of words and your determination to flourish, you have kept Australian literature and our culture alive and thriving too.
On behalf of us all, I thank you so very much.
What more can I say except support your independent booksellers. They are treasures.
* Reminding me, also, of Annabel Smith’s The ark (my review)
Please feel free to give a plug to your favourite independent bookseller in the comments below!