Monday musings on Australian literature: The Hope Prize

I came across the beautifully named Hope Prize over the weekend via some online service. Was it Twitter? Was it Facebook? Perhaps even Instagram though I think not, but I really can’t recollect. Such is our online lives, eh?

Anyhow, the Hope Prize, was, according to the website, established by the Brotherhood of St Laurence “thanks to the generosity of the late Prudence Myer and the support of her family*, to encourage writing that transcends stereotypes of ‘the poor’ and reflects the resilience we know that people show in the face of poverty and testing times.” The Prize is supported by publisher Simon and Schuster and Readings bookshop.

So, what is the prize for? Well, it is subtitled the Brotherhood of St Laurence Short Story Competition. I understood from the site where I first read about it, that it’s geared to amateur writing. The competition rules say that entries “must be the original work of the applicant” and “must not have been published, broadcast, or won a monetary prize in any competition”. The applicant must also be a resident of Australia, and the story must be between 2,000 and 5,000 words.

Hope prize short stories book coverThe judges for the inaugural prize, whose winners have just been announced, were Australian actor Cate Blanchett, novelist Kate Grenville, and ex-Governor General Quentin Bryce. What a lovely panel (albeit an all-female one. Perhaps it would be good to include a token male next year! Sorry, couldn’t resist that.) Anyhow, the website says that “they were impressed with the very high standard of writing and reported that all the finalists revealed powerful perspectives on the world at large, and displayed unique, unpretentious and authentic voices.” According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), a collection, which will include the winning and commended stories, will be published by Simon & Schuster on November 9. Sounds like a gift worth buying and giving.

But now, the winners:

  • First Prize, $5,000: Catherine Moffat for “Better Homes and Gardens”
  • Second Prize, $3,000: Eloise Young for “555 to Reservoir”
  • Third Prize, $2,000: Katherine Hayes for “Queen St”
  • Young Writer winner, $500: Eleanor George for “Colours”

There were also six highly commended stories.

… an entirely different perspective …

The abovementioned SMH article says that the winning story, “Better Homes and Gardens”, is “narrated by a young girl who lives in her father’s car with her little sister and describes her trying to stay afloat at school”. Cate Blanchett says of this story that

I suddenly saw the world from an entirely different perspective … It’s language and perspective on the world that in middle class society we take for granted. I felt like my entire world had been turned upside down.

She says that the stories did not confirm stereotypes and were “utterly illuminating”.

Quentin Bryce says that the stories, which present the perspectives of refugees, asylum seekers and homeless people, gave her a real understanding of the isolation experienced by many Australians every day. SMH quotes her as saying:

I was reading those stories again and thinking about what this publication is about; about poverty and disadvantage and the compassion you really feel very deeply. It gives you an awareness of how easily life can change.

And finally to return to Blanchett, she is, SMH says, “a firm believer that great works of art and literature can be catalysts for change”. I have to agree, and love her passion and support for projects like these.

Hope: an anthology will be available in trade paperback and format, and royalties are being donated to the prize. You can order via the Simon and Schuster site, or presumably buy from shops like Readings, after November 9.

What an encouraging initiative this is – one which encourages the arts while also working to raise awareness of social justice – and what a great example of what philanthropy can do.

* I’m not sure if this has been organised through the Myer Foundation, but the Myers, through four generations now, are among Australia’s most signifiant philanthropists in the arts, social welfare and the environment. Prudence Myer was married to Kenneth Myer, whom I met eons ago through his active support of the National Library of Australia.

19 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: The Hope Prize

  1. What a great idea for a prize. There is a HUGE need for material that humanises the marginalized in what sometimes seems an increasingly dehumanized and harsh set of societies (our proud Western world).

  2. I know one of the stories, Machine Man, and its author, Marlish Glorie. I read it while it was still evolving, and found it so moving. The funny thing is, like with many stories, it was rejected from the first place she submitted it, which was a much smaller competition. It goes to show how subjective these things are. I’m glad these judges were as moved by the piece as I was. I’m very much looking forward to reading the whole anthology. 🙂

    • Oh, thanks for that, Louise. You are right of course, it’s so subjective – and, part of that too, is finding the right place for the right material too, isn’t it? I think this was one of the highly commended stories wasn’t it?

    • I think prize winners get their prize, Bill, and the royalties go back to the prize. I suspect they do, but they retain copyright and can have their stories published elsewhere. Some of the purchase price presumably covers the costs of publication.

  3. This sounds wonderful and I will be sure to get a copy to support them. I Love the panel of judges, what a trio. Though must have a little chuckle how Cate Blanchett mentions the ‘middle class’ standing. I never thought of her as middle class. I know what she means though. Thanks for sharing.

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