Hands up if you are familiar with the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature and know who won its major categories this year? I may be out of touch, but it seems to me that these awards (about which I’ve written a couple of times before) are less well-known than some of their other state-based counterparts like the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, the Queensland Literary Awards and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Why is this?
Part of the reason may be that these awards – like the now downgraded (and, you have to think, struggling) Western Australian Premier’s Literary Awards – are biennial. Another reason may be that they are announced during the wider-based Adelaide Festival. This Festival was established in 1960 and has to be one of Australia’s best-known arts festivals. Apparently inspired by the Edinburgh Festival for the Arts, it includes various, what I would call sub-festivals, including the Adelaide Writer’s Week, WOMADelaide and the Adelaide Fringe. Interestingly, Adelaide Writer’s Week, during which the biennial literary awards are announced, is held annually. There is an historical explanation for this. The overall Festival and the Writer’s Week were themselves biennial until 2012. Will the Awards catch up one day?
One more thing, before I get onto the literary awards specifically, Wikipedia provides a link to a June 2019 newspaper report announcing that Adelaide Festival, which had that year “eclipsed its previous 2018 box office record by over $1 million [would] receive a further $1.25 million in annual funding over the next three years to help the Festival ‘continue to attract major performances and events'”. In these days of ongoing funding cuts to the arts, this surely says something about the value of this festival to South Australia – economically and, presumably, culturally.
Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature
So, the Awards – almost. First a bit more about the Adelaide Writers Week which was part of the original 1960 Adelaide Festival. According to the History of the Adelaide Festival of Arts (2010) (downloadable here) this week “became the model for subsequent literary festivals around the world, and its prestige and popularity among writers, readers and publishers has never been surpassed”. Certainly, I know people who have gone – and who love it. Particularly impressive is that many of its events are free. How special is that? However, it is also a largely outdoors event which can be a challenge in Adelaide’s summer.
So yes, now really, the Awards! They were established by the South Australian government in 1986, and, like some other state literary awards, include both national and state-based prizes, as well as some fellowships for South Australian writers. Over the years, categories have come and gone. The original four categories were Fiction, Children’s Literature, Poetry and Non-fiction, with the original 1986 winners of these being, respectively, Helen Garner’s The children’s Bach (my review), Ivan Southall’s The long night watch, Robert Gray’s Selected poems: 1963-1983, and RM Gibbs A history of Prince Alfred College.
As of 2020, the Awards are being managed by the State Library of South Australia, and currently have a prize pool $167,500 across the eleven categories, including the Premier’s Award of $25,000.
Significant fiction winners over the years have included two-time winners Peter Carey, Frank Moorhouse, David Malouf and Roger McDonald. A few women have won too, but not many. Besides inaugural winner Garner, the other women winners to date have been Kate Jennings, Gail Jones (twice) and Eva Hornung.
2020 Winners (National)
- Premier’s Award (est. 1996, chosen from the category winners): Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor: The trials of Morrigan Crow.
- Fiction Award: Gail Jones’ The death of Noah Glass.
- Children’s Literature Award: Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor: The trials of Morrigan Crow.
- Young Adult Fiction Award (est. 2012): Sarah Epstein’s Small spaces.
- John Bray Poetry Award: Natalie Harkin’s Archival-Poetics.
- Non-fiction Award: Meredith Lake’s The Bible in Australia.
2020 Winners (South Australian)
- Jill Blewitt Playwrights Award (est. 1992): Piri Eddy’s Forgiveness.
- Arts SA/Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award (est. 1998): Jelena Dinic In the Room with the She Wolf by Jelena Dinic. Previous winners have included Margaret Merrilees’ The first week (my review) and Cassie Flanagan-Willanski’s Here where we live (my review).
- Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship (est. 1994): Aiden Coleman.
- Max Fatchen Fellowship (est. as Carclew Fellowship in 1988): Sally Heinrich.
- Tangkanungku Pintyanthi Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fellowship (est. 2014): No applicants for 2020, but Ali Cobby Eckermann (my posts) won this fellowship in 2014 and 2016. I wonder why there were no applicants this round? Are the requirements too difficult? Is it not being advertised well enough? If you are interested, check page 5 of the 2020 Guidelines.