Monday musings on Australian literature: Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature

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.

Helen Garner, The children BachSo 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.

Book cover2020 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.

Any comments?

Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, 2014

As you know, I don’t report on every literary award announced throughout the year in Australia. There are way too many. But I did want to announce the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, partly because they are only awarded biennially. They were established in 1986. The fact that they are awarded biennially means of course that they draw on a larger pool than most of our literary awards.

Ten awards/fellowships were made this year, some of them for works and/or authors I don’t know, but here they are:

  • Premier’s Award: Frank Moorhouse, Cold light (my review). Coincidentally the first book in Moorhouse’s Edith trilogy, of which Cold light is the final book, won the 1994 Adelaide Festival Award. Cold light also won the Queensland Literary Prize last year.
  • Nonfiction: Kate Richards, Madness: A memoir. Richards’ memoir about living with psychosis for 10 years was also shortlisted for the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards Nonfiction prize.
  • Children’s literature: Catherine Jinks, A very unusual pursuit. Jinks is an established, multiple award-winning author of adult and children’s fiction in multiple genres, including science fiction and crime.
  • Young adult fiction: Vikki Wakefield, Friday Brown. Wakefield apparently won this award in 2012, also.
  • John Bray Poetry Award: Lisa Jacobson, The sunlit zone. This book was shortlisted last year for the inaugural Stella Prize. I have this book – a speculative fiction verse novel – in my sights. According to Wikipedia, the late John Bray was a lawyer, academic and published poet, and also served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia.
  • Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award: Cassie Flanagan-Willanski, Here where we live. I recently reviewed the winner of this prize at the 2012 Festival, Margaret Merrilees’ The first week.
  • Jill Blewett Playwright’s Award: Phillip Kavanagh, Replay. The late Jill Blewett was a playwright. She was married to Labor politician, Neal Blewett, and tragically died when she was electrocuted. In 2012, Kavanagh won the Patrick White Playwright’s Award.
  • Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship: Jennifer Mills, Common Monsters. I haven’t read Mills yet, though I have her well-regarded Gone in my pile. She has won several awards for her short stories, and in 2012 was named one of Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists. I must get to that book! The late Barbara Hanrahan, author and artist, wrote the gorgeously evocative autobiographical novel, The scent of eucalyptus, which I’ve reviewed here.
  • Max Fatchen Fellowship: Catherine Norton (pseudonym for Helen Dinmoe), Falling. The late Max Fatchen was a journalist and children’s writer. The fellowship is, consequently, for writers for young people.
  • Tangkanungku Pintyanthi Fellowship for South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers: Ali Cobby Eckermann, Hopes crossing. Cobby Eckermann is an established indigenous Australian novelist and poet. She was a member of the stolen generation. She met her birth mother when she was 34, and started to connect with her culture from this time. This is the first time this award has been offered, and I understand that Tangkanungku Pintyanthi, from the Kaurna language, means ‘writing from the heart’.

Most of these authors are clearly well-established, but that doesn’t mean of course that they are flush with money.  Congratulations to them all, established or not. May their awards make a difference to their writing lives.

Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, 2012

Kim Scott That Deadman Dance

Kim Scott's That Deadman Dance (Image courtesy Picador Australia)

The Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature are biennial awards, coinciding, funnily enough, with the holding of the biennial Adelaide Festival. I understand, however, that from 2012 the festival will be an annual event. Presumably this means the literary awards will also be awarded annually from now on. If that’s the plan, South Australia will finally have an annual literary award, like most other Australian states.

Anyhow, this year’s winners, which were announced earlier this month, are:

  • Premier’s and Fiction award ($15,000) award: Kim Scott‘s That deadman dance (My review)
  • Nonfiction award: Mark McKenna’s An eye for eternity: The life of Manning Clark
  • John Bray Poetry Award: Les Murray’s Taller when prone
  • Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship: Nicki Bloom for The sun and other stars
  • Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award: Margret Merrilees’ The First Week

There are a few other prizes including for Children’s and Young Adult books, but these are the ones of main interest to me and so they’re the ones I’m giving you!

It’s great to see Kim Scott garnering another two awards for That deadman dance. It has now won:

It was shortlisted for several other Australian literary awards in 2011 and has also been longlisted for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. I do hope it is starting to make inroads into overseas markets.