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?)
I 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.
- 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)
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?