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Monday musings on Australian literature: 2021 Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award longlist

August 30, 2021

I only occasionally use my Monday Musings post to make awards announcements. Today is one of those occasions, because the Nib Literary Awards longlist was announced today and I did want to share it, as it’s one of Australia’s quieter but yet interesting awards.

I have written about it before and in that post you can read about about its origins and intentions but, in a nutshell, it celebrates “excellence in research and writing”. It is not limited by genre, though given the research focus, nonfiction always features heavily.

The Nib, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is managed by Sydney’s Waverley Council. It is, according to the email announcement I received, the “only major literary award of its kind presented by a local council”. Whether you like awards or not, this represents an impressive and meaningful commitment to Australia’s literary culture, wouldn’t you say?

Anyhow, the judges for the 2021 award are Katerina Cosgrove (author), Jamie Grant (poet and editor), and Lee Kofman (author and editor). They worked their way through 150 nominations, with their judging criteria being “high literary merit, readability and value to the community”.

The longlist

Book cover
  • Bill Birtles‘ The truth about China: Propaganda, patriotism and the search for answers (nonfiction/political)
  • Tanya Bretherton’s The husband poisoner: Suburban women who killed in post-World War II Sydney (nonfiction/true crime) (Kim’s review)
  • Gabrielle Carey‘s Only happiness here: In search of Elizabeth von Arnim (biography/memoir) (on my wishlist) (Brona’s review)
  • Alison Croggon’s Monsters: A reckoning (nonfiction/memoir) (on my TBR)
  • Sarah Dingle’s Brave new humans: The dirty reality of donor conception (nonfiction/science)
  • Richard Fidler’s The golden maze (nonfiction/history)
  • Tim Flannery’s The climate cure: Solving the climate emergency in the era of COVID-19 (nonfiction/environment) (on my TBR)
  • Anthony Ham’s The last lions of Africa: Stories from the frontline in the battle to save a species (nonfiction/environment)
  • Kate Holden’s The winter road: A story of legacy, land and a killing at Croppa Creek (nonfiction/environment)
  • Zoe Holman’s Where the water ends: Seeking refuge in Fortress Europe (nonfiction/refugees) (Lisa’s review)
  • Ramona Koval’s A letter to Layla: Travels to our deep past and near future (nonfiction)
  • Sarah Krasnostein’s The believer: Encounters with love, death & faith (nonfiction/religion) (on my TBR)
  • Bri Lee’s Who gets to be smart: Privilege, power and knowledge (nonfiction/sociopolitics)
  • Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (nonfiction/racial politics) (on my TBR) (Janine’s review)
  • Tim Olsen’s Son of the brush (nonfiction/memoir)
  • Dymphna Stella Rees’ A paper inheritance (nonfiction/biography)
  • Rebecca Starford’s The imitator (fiction)
  • Luke Stegemann’s Amnesia Road, landscape, violence and memory (nonfiction/history) (Janine’s review)

At 18 titles, this is a long longlist. Eleven of the 18 are by women, but beyond that it’s not a particularly diverse list in terms of authors. It would be great to see that change. However, thinking of “value to the community”, it does encompass several of our important contemporary political issues including the environment (climate change and species extinction), refugees, racial politics and difficult histories. Four books fall into the life-writing category. There is only one work of fiction, which is probably why very few of these books have been reviewed by the bloggers I follow. We are mostly a fiction-focused lot!

The shortlist will be announced in late September, with the overall Winner ($20,000) and the People’s Choice Prize being announced in November.

Do you have any thoughts on this list?

36 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2021 02:38

    A pity that so many good literary rewards are limiting participation to their own nationals. I would have liked to introduce one of my own nonfiction books, but it’s only open for Australian writers.

    • August 31, 2021 08:21

      Interesting point Shaharee. I can see arguments for both sides. One of the main points, I guess, is what is the aim of the award. In many cases it’s about supporting local literature, local writers. There are some here who argue for more narrowing – that is, they think the NSW Premier’s award should only befor NSW writers! In pragmatic terms, I suspect the wider you go, the more nominations /entries you have, which means a bigger load on judging? I’d love to know how that has gone since the Booker was broadened beyond the Commonwealth? I’m not sure where you are from, I know it is hard to get your writing known if you come from a country with a relatively small market. This is and has been a challenge for Australian writers,

  2. August 31, 2021 07:27

    If Tim Olsen is honest, the biography of his dad should make hair-raising material !! 😀

    • August 31, 2021 08:29

      This is more memoir than biography, I think , M-R ? I suspect he has been honest about his father’s impact on him, but I haven’t read it. My sense from what we seen, though, is that he probably also, from this stage in his life, cuts his father some slack recognising this is artists! Doesn’t always make some of the mistakes made right, though, does it?

      • August 31, 2021 08:35

        Nup. Vedremo.

        • August 31, 2021 08:49

          We will! Do you plan to listen to it.

        • August 31, 2021 09:10

          If I can. I’ve been an Olsen fan since I was a teenager.

        • August 31, 2021 12:50

          Oh how interesting. I’ve been aware of him if course… But mainly just the few iconic pieces really.

        • August 31, 2021 17:01

          It almost sounds as if you were unaware of the fact that I’m a very interesting person ..
          Nono, that CAN’T be right.
          [grin]

        • August 31, 2021 22:12

          Oh, sorry M-R. I completely forgot you were interesting. Thanks for reminding me… I’ll try to remember in future! [grin back]

  3. Meg permalink
    August 31, 2021 08:41

    Hi Sue, i was surprised to see another book award yesterday. It is a very interesting list. I have read only three, and recently was impressed with The Truth About China. I have reserved Kate Holden’s book. The more Australian writers are recognised by these awards and so they should be. I tend to read more Australian now because of these awards and most of the time I am not disappointed. I also read books recognised by overseas awards. Just finished Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (Booker Prize Longlist), and it was a great read.

    • August 31, 2021 08:54

      Well done to have read three Meg. I have three there on my piles and a couple more on my wishlist. It’s a good list I think, though as I said, more diversity in authors would be great (thinking of those two at the F*ck event I “attended” on the weekend!

      Yes, I’m reading more Australian books these days too, though I have read some wonderful non-Aussies this year too. More I feel than in recent years. But that may just be impression.

  4. August 31, 2021 09:08

    Thinking about your comment regarding diversity, I’ve cast my eye over my diversity page — hardly a representative sample of what’s published, of course, but still — the books there tend to wear any research lightly, as memoirs and autofiction tend to do.
    BTW I have A Paper Inheritance on my TBR, but goodness knows when I’ll get to it…

    • August 31, 2021 16:11

      Thanks Lisa, interesting. Are you suggesting that’s why they may not appear in these awards?

      I must say A paper inheritance interests me too, but I don’t have it.

      • August 31, 2021 17:57

        I don’t really know… but it seems to me that people writing about their own lives and experiences possibly don’t do as much research as, say, someone writing a biography. Obviously that depends on the perspective that they take, of course. Memoirs about illness or travel memoirs for example, might include quite a bit of research.

        • August 31, 2021 22:18

          That makes sense… And of course much of the research they may do is likely to be invisible – personal records, and family and friends.

  5. August 31, 2021 09:20

    This is an interesting bunch of books! I don’t seem to have read as much non-fiction lately as I might normally, and even then it’s largely memoir or narrative non-fiction, but I have read The Husband Poisoner from this list. My review is here: https://readingmattersblog.com/2021/03/27/the-husband-poisoner-by-tanya-bretherton/

    • August 31, 2021 12:48

      Oh good kimbofo. I checked your blog for a couple as I did the others. I will add it to the list. There are a lot of good books there aren’t there.

  6. August 31, 2021 18:04

    I couldn’t imagine reading any of them, I wonder what the other 132 were like? And sorry Shaharee, I’m one of the ones who think literary awards should be relatively narrowly targeted, though I accept this one is for more than just Waverley ratepayers.

    • Neil@kallaroo permalink
      August 31, 2021 21:44

      I agree with you, Bill. None of those titles yells “Read me!” to me.

      As for literary awards, I am agnostic. If Olympians (but not para-Olympans) can gets reward for earning a medal, then why shouldn’t authors receive an award. But entrance criteria are up to the award givers.

      • August 31, 2021 22:46

        Are you a non-fiction reader Neil? If not, I can completely understand but if you are why not these?

        I agree with you about award givers.

        • Neil@kallaroo permalink
          August 31, 2021 23:42

          The bulk of my reading is fiction. I do read a bit of history or archaeology, and science or maths. I have a very limited interest in biographies (auto or otherwise) and definitely not of sports folk!

        • September 1, 2021 08:33

          A bit like me, except my nonfiction interests are different. I like nonfiction to do with literature, history, social/political issues. So no Kyrgios memoir for Fathers Day for you, then?

        • Neil@kallaroo permalink
          September 1, 2021 10:00

          Alas, no Kyrgios memoir for Father’s Day. (Shudder.) I’ve read the children the riot act. Told them I have too many undone jigsaw puzzles, and too many unplayed games, and no need for sox or UPs, and other clothing is under control, so for Father’s Day I want for nothing but that they come around and play a game. Actually, I’d really like them to come around and take something from the shed, but I fear this is too much of an imposition!

        • September 1, 2021 10:50

          Haha… Love that Neil. Take something from the shed. Len usually says he only wants things he can eat and drink. Really a meal together is the best but none of that for lockdown us.

        • Neil@kallaroo permalink
          September 1, 2021 12:09

          Yes, eating and drinking are good options. Mine is normally eating. But my daughter’s bought me a nibble basket for my birthday, full of non-sugar treats (I’m recently diagnosed with type II diabetes), and at the rate I’m eating, there will still be stuff at Christmas.

          This year on Father’s Day, we’re off to eldest daughter’s for afternoon tea and a game. 🙂

        • September 1, 2021 13:00

          Sounds like a great Father’s Day. This will be our first since we lived in the USA in the early 1990s to not share ours with either parents (as my Dad was alive last year) or children. A new world.

        • September 1, 2021 12:30

          I’d better send a copy of this conversation to my daughter and see if she’ll take the hint. Not that I know which Sunday is father’s day.

        • September 1, 2021 13:01

          DO that! A paper inheritance includes people like Nettie Palmer! BTW It’s this coming Sunday. Where will you be.

        • September 1, 2021 18:31

          With no prompting at all, Gee has asked me to come over on Sunday. Unfortunately, if I’m offered a load between now and Friday – which I haven’t been yet – I’ll have to go.

        • September 1, 2021 20:45

          Hmm… Do you want the job or the outing? I don’t know which to barrack for.

    • August 31, 2021 22:23

      No. Not up your alley generally I thought. Though I did think A paper inheritance might have had some interest for you.

      • August 31, 2021 22:35

        MMMaybe. I looked it up – Dymphna Stella really was named after Cusack and Franklin! I’m still not interested in the Reeses but if it’s all about writers it could be interesting.

        • August 31, 2021 22:52

          I was vaguely interested in Leslie Rees a long time ago, but thd point is I think that this book is about their whole literary milieu and I like books like that.

  7. September 1, 2021 08:04

    Like Lisa I have the book about the Rees’ on my TBR pile. Mr Books found the Birtles book fascinating (we were meant to host an author talk with Bill for his book at work, but Covid…)
    Two of my colleagues constantly recommend the Bri Lee and Mark McKenna.
    After seeing half the Olsen special on the ABC earlier in the year, I might be tempted to read the book if I had more time to do such things! I started the Fidler but found it quite dull, so stopped. But so many others seem to love it *shrug*

    Thanks for highlighting the list though Sue. I noticed the email at work yesterday, but Sept new releases arrived and boxes and unpacking them was my priority!

    • September 1, 2021 08:44

      “but Covid” – the mantra of our times, eh, Bona. I really want to read McKenna, I saw the Olsen special too and that has increased my interest as the art/arts world always interest but I’d go with Rees first. the Fidler is much lower priority for me, I’m sorry to say, but Lee also interests. I’d like to find time for the Flannery. It does look too long!

      I’m glad you liked the post. This is such an interesting award on several counts, isn’t it?

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