Monday musings on Australian literature: Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund

We all know that a writer’s life is not a well-paid one. One way that writers keep going, that is, that enables them to continue writing, is through winning awards and grants. I report often on awards, and they also regularly appear in the media, but how much do we know about grants? And what exactly is a grant?

I’m not sure what the official definition of an artist’s grant is, but I’d define it broadly to encompass any monies or, other in-kind products or services (like residencies), intended to support creators doing their work. Grants tend to be offered by government bodies, foundations, trusts and non-profit organisations, with the best-known ones in Australia being, probably, those offered by the Australia Council for the Arts and the Copyright Agency. However, there are many other grants – big and small, general and specific – that writers can apply for. Darned if I know how they find out about them all, but their state writers centres, most of which I’ve now covered in this blog, are probably a good start.

I don’t want to get into the politics of funding artists. There’s the politics involved in grant-making (as anyone who has followed the Australia Council over the years knows only too well) but there’s also the bigger issue of how (or if, some would say) we should, as a society, support artists in the first place. Instead, today, I just want to share one specific grant, as an example of the sort of support artists (in this case writers) need and can get.

Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund

The Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund was established in 2017 by Writers Victoria, with funding from the Myer Foundation, in the name of poet, novelist and short story writer Neilma Gantner (1922-2015). Gantner was the daughter of businessman and philanthropist Sidney Myer. The Fund recognises, says the Writers Victoria webpage, “the unique value of travel in the development of new writing and literary careers”.

The grants, which range between $2000 and $10,000, are “intended to support emerging, midcareer and established Australian writers and literary sector workers. This includes writers, editors, agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers, employees and associates of literary organisations and journals, and other literary professionals currently living in Australia”.

Last week, Books + Publishing advised that Writers Victoria had announced the fifth round of recipients for the Fund. This round was the second offered in 2019. The judges change for each round, with those for Round 5 being writer Eugen Bacon, podcaster Astrid Edwards, and Black Inc. publisher Kirstie Innes-Will.

Here are the recipients (in grant amount order), showing the sorts of activities the fund supports:

  • Evelyn Araluen and Jonathan Dunk ($9656): to research Aboriginal and settler–colonial literary and cultural relations in England and the Czech Republic. Araluen is an Indigenous Australian poet, educator and researcher, while Dunk is a poet, critic, fiction-writer and academic.
  • Cate Kennedy ($7000): to attend writers’ festivals in Ireland and Jamaica, and residencies and reading events in the US. I’ve read some of Kennedy’s short stories, and have reviewed the excellent anthology Australian love stories which she edited.
  • Ruhi Lee ($6850): to research her memoir in India. Lee is a Melbourne-based writer, and was, in fact,  part of this year’s HARDCOPY program, run by the ACT Writers Centre (about which I wrote in 2015).
  • Mirandi Riwoe ($6062): for a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. I’ve reviewed her powerful novella, The fish girl.
  • Book cover for Madelaine Dickie's TroppoMadelaine Dickie ($4374): to research a proposed biography of Wayne Bergmann in Broome. I’ve reviewed Dickie’s debut novel, Troppo, and will be attending the launch of her second book, the intriguingly titled Red can origami, this month. Dickie won the T.A.G Hungerford Award for Troppo, and it was also shortlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award and the Barbara Jefferis Award.
  • Fiona Hardy ($3920): to research and begin her middle-grade fiction book on Christmas Island. Hardy is a children’s book writer, reviewer and bookseller.
  • Robert Lukins ($3473): to research a novel in Carter Lake, Iowa–Nebraska, US. Lukins’ debut novel, The everlasting Sunday, was short or longlisted for some major literary awards this year.
  • Maria Takolander ($3177): to attend the Arteles artist-in-residency in Finland. I have Takolander’s short story collection, The double, on my TBR, but keep not getting to it! My bad.
  • Sara Saleh ($3100): to take part in the inaugural Arab–Palestinian literature festival in New York. Saleh is an Arab-Australian poet, creative artist and activist.
  • Tamara Lazaroff ($2723): to research her memoir on De Witt Island, Tasmania. Lazaroff is a Queensland-based writer of fiction and nonfiction, who took part in last year’s HARDCOPY program.

Books + Publishing referred to “eleven successful writers, booksellers and publishers” but in fact all these grants have been given to writers and/or for writing projects. This is not surprising really, given their generally insecure funding base, but it would be interesting to know how often other literary professionals have been given grants.

It’s darned hard work applying for grants, I know. The above 11 (for ten projects) were selected from 99 applicants, which is probably not a bad ratio. Still, writers must have to juggle the time spent on writing grant applications against writing their books. I congratulate the above 11 on their success, and hope they find spending their money both fruitful and enjoyable!