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Monday musings on Australian literature: Nib Literary Award

September 28, 2020

The Mark & Evette Moran Nib Literary Award is a somewhat unusual award that I’ve been receiving notifications about for years, but have never posted specifically on (though Lisa of ANZLitLovers has.) It’s unusual for a couple of reasons. One is that its focus is on celebrating “excellence in research and writing in Australia”, and the other is, as the website also says, that it is “the only major [national] literary award of its kind presented by a local council”.

The award was established in 2002 as the Nib Waverley Library Award for Literature, but was renamed The Mark & Evette Moran Nib Literary Award in 2017 to recognise the Morans’ significant sponsorship of the award. Exactly who initiated it is a little unclear, but it seems that the Australian author and playwright Alex Buzo (1944-2006), who lived near and prolifically used Waverley Library, and Chris Haywood, Patron of the Friends of Waverley Library*, were instrumental. (I love seeing a Friends’ group involved in something like this.)

The award is open to all Australian writers regardless of their experience, chosen subject matter or genre. The judging criteria are: excellence in research, high level of literary merit, readability and value to the community. These are interesting criteria and reflect, I understand, the ethos, passions and goals of both Alex Buzo and the Waverley Council. Announcing the 2019 award, City Hub Sydney suggested that these are the only awards given out for research and the writing process itself rather than just for the finished product. The shortlist and winner are chosen by an independent panel of three judges, of which Alex Buzo was one in its first few years.

There are additional prizes, but again their history is a little uncertain:

  • Alex Buzo Shortlist Prize of $1000 to each shortlisted author (added in 2006?)
  • The Military History Prize of $3000, supported by the Bondi Junction, North Bondi, and Rose Bay RSL Sub-Branches to commemorate the ANZAC centenary, “for a work that illustrates the service and sacrifice of Australian service men and women, families or the broader home front, during or in relation to any threat(s) of war” (added 2015?)
  • People’s Choice Prize of $1000 (added in 2017?)

Book cover, The forgotten rebels of EurekaI haven’t been able to find anything about the 2020 Military History Prize, so am not sure about its continuation or, at least, its being awarded this year.

Winners

  • 2002 Tim Low, The new nature (nature/science writing)
  • 2003 Barry Hill, Broken song: TGH Strehlow and Aboriginal possession (biography)
  • 2004 Geoffrey Blainey, Black kettle and full moon: Daily life in a vanished Australia (social history)
  • 2005 Helen Garner, Joe Cinque’s consolation (true crime)
  • 2006 Gideon Haigh, Asbestos house (business writing/company history)
  • 2007 John Bailey, Mr Stuart’s track: The forgotten life of Australia’s greatest explorer (biography)
  • 2008 Christopher Koch, The memory room (novel) (Lisa’s review)
  • 2009 Robert Gray, The land I came through last (autobiography)
  • 2010 Andrew Tink, William Charles Wentworth (biography)
  • 2011 Delia Falconer, Sydney (history/travel)
  • 2012 Jane Gleeson‐White, Double entry: How the merchants of Venice created modern finance (business writing/history)
  • 2013 Gideon Haigh, On Warne (biography)
  • 2014 Clare Wright, The forgotten rebels of Eureka (Text) (history) (my review)
  • 2015 Erik Jensen, Acute misfortune: The life and death of Adam Cullen (biography) (Lisa’s review)
  • 2016 Rachel Landers, Who bombed the Hilton (investigative writing/political history)
  • 2017 Kate Cole‐Adams, Anaesthesia: The gift of oblivion and the mystery of consciousness (science writing/memoir)
  • 2018 Helen Lewis, The dead still cry: The story of a combat cameraman (biography) (Lisa’s review)
  • 2019 Nadia Wheatley, Her mother’s daughter: A memoir (hybrid biography/memoir) (my review)Nadia Wheatley, Her mother's daughter

I have read just three, but only two since blogging. It’s interesting, but not surprising, that although the criteria encompass all “genres”, only one of the winning books, to date, has been fiction. We have talked about the role of research in fiction here many times. I would love to see this award grapple with that a little more. There were a couple of novels in the 2020 longlist, including Heather Rose’s Bruny (my review) and Julie Janson’s Benevolence (on my TBR).

In the various announcements I’ve read online, I’ve seen little in the way of judge’s comments, so I don’t know how they’ve assessed the winning books in terms of the criteria, that is, their “excellence in research, high level of literary merit, readability and value to the community”. It would be really interesting to know, for example, what they mean by “readability” and “value to the community”.

Overall, though, I love that this award exists. It’s quite a testament to Waverley Council and its supporters that it has survived, now, for 19 years.

Are you aware of this award, and, regardless, what do you think about its criteria?

* See Nib Waverley’s Alex Buzo page and Wikipedia.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2020 5:49 am

    Never heard of it, but I do like the criteria ! – they meld well.

  2. September 29, 2020 1:06 pm

    I’ve reported on it since 2018, so perhaps I am on their press release email list or maybe I just come across something on Twitter (where they don’t have an account, as far as I can tell).
    I think it’s a beaut award, though as you say, it would be interesting to know how they assess the merits of the books they choose. But hey, that’s true of every award in which we take an interest, eh?
    PS Thanks for the mentions.

    • September 29, 2020 4:12 pm

      You are probably on their email list, as I am, Lisa? I just haven’t got around posting about this award.

      Yes, true about all awards, but in many we do get judges’ comments which sometimes creates a round of discussion, as you might remember a couple of years ago with the Stella judges?

      • September 29, 2020 9:55 pm

        I don’t know, Sue, I lose track of what comes into and out of my email. Before my computer debacle I could always find things that were too important to delete, but now, if I didn’t send it to One Note, which automatically backs itself up in the cloud, I haven’t got it any more.

        • September 29, 2020 10:58 pm

          I find it hard because so much is coming via so many platforms, I can’t always remember what comes how! It’s impossible! As for the different ways different people prefer to communicate, it’s becoming too much. Email? Sms? WhatsApp? Messenger? And so on …

        • September 29, 2020 11:58 pm

          Yes, I remember getting very cross when stuff started getting tweeted instead of sent to us as a proper press release, it really does make it so much harder for us to do them the favour they want us to do.

        • September 30, 2020 10:23 am

          If it’s tweeted I rarely get it because I spend very little time on Twitter, and usually just glance at the occasional one that comes through my notifications, not because I don’t think Twitter contains some good content but because – time.

  3. Meg permalink
    September 29, 2020 5:58 pm

    Hi Sue, I am not aware of the awards. I have only read 4 of the winners. And, of those four, I would have discovered from reviews or blogs. It seems to be a worthy award for authors who do so much research. I am very pleased to see Clare Wright’s name among the winners.

    • September 29, 2020 7:24 pm

      Thanks Meg. It’s interesting that for such a “good” award in that the main prize is $20,000, it’s less well known than it could be. I know there are many bigger prizes, but this one isn’t insignificant all the same.

  4. September 29, 2020 6:13 pm

    I have good intentions with regards to two of the winners Garner, and Clare Wright (though I should read the suffragist one first). I’m not a big fan of all these prizes but it is nice that authors get some money sometimes.

    • September 29, 2020 7:27 pm

      I know, Bill, not everyone likes prizes, but the money is important to many authors. So often they say it makes a big difference, particularly if it’s “real” bucks. This one is probably borderline for that, but could buy a few months depending on their situation.

  5. September 29, 2020 10:39 pm

    I only became aware of it when Kate Cole-Adams won – I still have not read her book, although have been to hear her speak (fascinating!).

    • September 29, 2020 11:01 pm

      Thanks Kate. Writing this post reminded me in particular of that book and how I thought I’d like to read it – but I haven’t either.

  6. October 4, 2020 12:33 pm

    PS This year’s Word 4Word NF festival that I usually go to in Geelong, is digital, and one of the sessions (for which I’ve bought a ticket) is a panel with three of these NIB shortlistees. See http://www.wordforwordfestival.com.au/session/life-changing-the-nib-panel/

    • October 4, 2020 5:41 pm

      Thanks Lisa, I hadn’t noticed that. I thought I might buy tickets to some of this festival, but I’m waiting as I’m not sure what time I can commit to. Must put it in my diary so I don’t let it slip by. I love that I might be able to attend this year.

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