The frozen sea
There was a real sense of occasion at the State Library of Queensland on 15 August when Tony Burke (Minister for the Arts and for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs, and Citizenship) – representing Kevin Rudd – announced the winners of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Well there might be, when $600,000 of public funds are at stake (the six winners receive $80,000; the shortlisted authors receive $5000). The fact that the winners didn’t know in advance added a further frisson.
Tony Burke spoke feelingly about the value of literature and daily necessity of poetry. Laudably, he managed to do so without reference to creative capital or economic outcomes. Then the minister ended the suspense for the nominees in Children’s Fiction (Libby Gleeson was the winner, for Red [Allen & Unwin]; Young Adult Fiction (Bruce Pascoe, Fog a Dox [Magabala Books]); Australian History (Ross McMullin, Farewell, Dear People [Scribe]); Non-fiction (George Megalogenis, The Australian Moment [Penguin]); and Poetry (John Kinsella, Jam Tree Gully [W.W. Norton & Co.]). Given that Mr Kinsella, who, for ecological reasons, will not fly, had spent five days on trains crossing the country to attend the function, the prize seemed doubly deserved.
Fiction came last, and Michelle de Kretser – author of Questions of Travel (Allen & Unwin), which has already won the Miles Franklin Literary Award – was a popular and not unexpected choice.
Michelle de Kretser began by thanking Prime Minister Rudd. ‘I know I speak on behalf of all Australian writers when I say how very grateful I am to Mr Rudd for his vision and generosity in establishing [the] awards and continuing to support them’. Then, in a short, charged, dignified speech, she provided the deeper surprise of the evening when she went on to address the politics surrounding asylum seekers. Here (with Ms de Kretser’s permission) is an extract:
I’m equally confident that I speak on behalf of millions of Australians when I condemn the cynicism and cruelty of Mr Rudd’s policy on asylum seekers. Mr Rudd’s heart wasn’t always frozen against those he once called ‘vulnerable strangers’. How disappointing that he set aside that compassion and chose to pursue this callous and shameful policy.
Mr Rudd has given me a wonderfully generous prize today. And I have given him a book. It doesn’t seem like much of an exchange, does it? But I believe in the power of literature to bring about changes in human hearts. And when I write, always at the back of my mind, is what Kafka said: A book must be the axe to break the frozen sea within. And so, optimistically, foolishly, immodestly, I hope that Mr Rudd might one day read my book. If he does, I hope it makes him smile. I hope it makes him think. And I hope it breaks his heart.
ABR has attended many prize ceremonies, but none quite like this one.
Major event at Boyd
A real highlight of our calendar is the appearance by distinguished writers Alexis Wright and Tony Birch at Boyd on Thursday, 3 October. On page 22 of this issue Jen Webb enthuses about Wright’s new novel The Swan Book – ‘a bitter, lovely, and tragic book.’ Wright’s first novel, the seminal Carpentaria, won the 2007 Miles Franklin Literary Award; she became the second Indigenous writer to win the Miles. Tony Birch’s most recent novel, Blood, was shortlisted for the 2012 Miles.
Text Classics has been responsible for some notable retrievals in the past couple of years, but for many Australianists and littérateurs the new edition of Kenneth ‘Seaforth’ Mackenzie’s The Young Desire It (1937) is among the most consequential. Peter Craven, who reviews the novel for us here, certainly thinks so:
The Young Desire It is a classic by absolute not relative or parochial or opportunistic standards … [It] is a staggering piece of fiction and it belongs as surely as, say, Robert Musil’s Young Törless, a savage work, or Katherine Mansfield’s At the Bay, a rapturous one, to the permanent literature of the world. Here for once is a true classic, a work by which all others should be judged.
Other aficionados include David Malouf (who provides the introduction to this Text Classic) and Joan London. The novelists will be in conversation about The Young Desire It at Cinema Nova on Thursday, 19 September. Peter Rose will chair this event for Readings Carlton. To purchase your ticket ring Readings on (03) 9347 6633.
When we announced the Peter Porter Poetry Prize in July we noted that poets can now enter online. We’re pleased that the overwhelming majority of early entrants are availing themselves of this inexpensive method.
In the past it was not possible to accept entries from poets living overseas, but now we can do so. How fitting that the Porter is our first competition to be opened up to international writers. Peter Porter’s superb poetry transcended national borders. This extension also chimes with the magazine’s strong interest in world poetry and its commitment to the promotion and appreciation of new poetry.
The Porter Prize is worth $4000 to the overall winner, and a total of $6500. Entries close on 20 November. More information can be found here.
ABR’s long association with the Seymour Biography Lecture continues with Drusilla Modjeska’s imminent lecture at the National Library of Australia. In her lecture, titled ‘The Informed Imagination’, the author of Poppy, Stravinsky’s Lunch, and The Mountain will explore what happens when traditional biographical approaches prove inadequate in writings about different ways of being in the world.
This is a free event, but bookings are essential. Ring (02) 6262 1271 or go to www.nla.gov.au/books.
ABR’s many Patrons have made an enormous difference to the magazine in recent years. Because of their marked generosity, we are able to reduce the cost of a one-year subscription to ABR Online to $25 for those aged twenty-five and under (the normal rate is $40 per annum). Those in this age category who wish to subscribe can do so online (proof of age is required).
Three different windows
Paul Hetherington, Rose Lucas, and Peter Rose all have new or recent poetry collections with UWA Press. (Bronwyn Lea reviews Hetherington’s Six Different Windows here). They will be reading from their books at Collected Works on Thursday, 12 September (6 for 6.30 p.m.). This is a free event.
A spy in Lygon Street
she writes for us about her translation to Moscow in the 1960s during her Oxford years. Her commentary opens ruefully: ‘There’s no ASIO file on me, not even a mention in someone else’s file …’Sheila Fitzpatrick – the eminent Soviet historian now based in Sydney after a long professorial career in Chicago – has just published her second memoir, A Spy in the Archives (Melbourne University Press). This month
Professor Fitzpatrick will be in conversation with Stuart Macintyre, a fellow historian of communism. This is a free event at Readings Carlton on Tuesday, 17 September.
It is twenty years since poet–academic Jennifer Strauss edited The Oxford Book of Australian Love Poems, so how timely that Inkerman & Blunt – a new publishing house based in Melbourne – is leading with a fresh anthology of poems amatory and clamorous.
Mark Tredinnick, the editor, has chosen to represent 173 poets, in a thematic selection. ‘Here,’ Inkerman & Blunt announces, ‘is larrikin love, ironic love and the understated love we inhabit.’
Contributors include ABR poets such as Michelle Cahill and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, who both have poems in this issue. Australian Love Poems 2013 costs $26.99; we will review it next month.