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Monday musings on Australian literature: Some ad hoc awards

March 28, 2016

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.

Helen Garner, This house of grief book cover

Courtesy: Text Publishing

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!

19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2016 23:55

    I bought my (as yet unread) copy of Charlotte Webb’s book from my local indie bookseller Crow Books, Victoria Park, WA. Love her comments and do my best to keep Crow Books afloat. Actually what I miss in Perth’s inner southern suburbs is a good second hand bookshop, so a plug also for Elizabeth’s down in Freo.

    • March 29, 2016 07:42

      Good for you Bill, that is, naming a good secondhand bookshop too. They are to treasure aren’t they?

      BTW I think you meant Charlotte Wood not Webb though that Charlotte did also have a way with words!!

  2. March 29, 2016 01:10

    Well I don’t thinkn I’d ever heard of the Windham Campbell Prize so thanks to your blog I just spent a good while googling the prize itself and then the authors and then their books! lol They’ve got a nice bunch of authors there going back several years – Thanks.

    • March 29, 2016 07:44

      Great Bekah … It’s a wonderfully generous prize too isn’t it? And lovely that it’s international. There were many names there I didn’t know.

  3. Deepika Ramesh permalink
    March 29, 2016 03:31

    I am yet to find an independent bookseller in Chennai, Sue. I hope I will meet one sometime soon. 🙂

    • March 29, 2016 07:47

      That’s interesting Deepika. I probably wouldn’t have expected that. Do you have Indian chains or multinational ones?

      Mine is a small city, but we have some independents, not many, but there are two that I frequent regularly, and a third small one is now getting some attention from me!

      • Deepika Ramesh permalink
        March 29, 2016 14:29

        We have a couple of chains. They are good, and offer great books. I miss visiting independent bookstores though. 🙂

        • March 29, 2016 16:49

          I understand Deepika. Chains can be decent I agree, but there’s something special about independents (most anyhow) isn’t there.

  4. ablay1 permalink
    March 29, 2016 06:47

    Wonderful to hear about such recognition for serious authors.

  5. March 29, 2016 08:01

    I too hadn’t heard of the Windham Campbell Prize. Congratulations to Helen Garner. I saw her interviewed last night on the 7.30 report, and she did talk about the House of Grief but not the prize. She did say how, This House of Grief, took 7 years out of her life. Helen also mentioned that she was grumpy and nothing pleased her then, but was now in a very contented place. I can see why. I can’t wait to read her new book on essays, Everywhere I Look. I don’t have a favourite Independent Book Store, and I rely heavily on my library for books.

    • March 29, 2016 16:51

      Oh, Meg, I usually watch the 7.30 Report, but we have family from interstate here. I must watch it on iView. Yes. I want to read that new book of essays too. Sounds like your library is very good, Meg, given how up to date with your reading you are.

  6. March 29, 2016 09:42

    Hi Sue… I loved all three books: Lucy Treloar, Charlotte Wood, and Helen Garner. It’s wonderful to see them get the attention they each deserve. And yes, I’m sure any recognition in terms of cash is greatly appreciated!

    Oh, and Salt Creek has just been short-listed for the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction. The winner takes home 25,000 pounds, along with oodles of kudos, especially given the calibre of other short-listed books/authors (including another favourite of mine, Patrick Gale):

    Crossing fingers for Lucy! Great post as always, thank you.

    • March 29, 2016 16:53

      Thanks Julie, and particularly for news of that other shortlisting. There are a lot of interesting prizes around aren’t there? I’ll keep my fingers crossed for her too.

  7. March 29, 2016 19:35

    Sue, that quotation by Charlotte reminded me too of Annabel’s The Ark! My favourite booksellers are the good people at Avenue Books, in Glenhuntly Road Elsternwick. Great selection and really nice people. I also love Readings in Glenferrie Road, Malvern (and Carlton too). Goodies in both places as well.

    • March 29, 2016 22:47

      Great minds, eh, Jenny! I don’t think I’ve heard of Avenue Books so thanks for adding that to my list though my Melbourne trips seem to be so short and family focused that I don’t tend to see much else.

  8. March 31, 2016 05:17

    Such a lovely speech. Leave it to a writer to come up with such a great metaphor!

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