The Jolley Prize shortlist
This year we received 1,428 entries for the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize – the same number submitted last year. Our judges – past winner Gregory Day, Monash University academic Melinda Harvey, and celebrated young exponent of the genre, Elizabeth Tan – have shortlisted three stories: ‘A Fall from Grace’ by John Richards (Queensland); ‘The Enemy, Asyndeton’ by Camilla Chaudhary (NSW)’, and ‘There Are No Stars Here, Either’ by Lauren Sarazen (USA/France). The stories appear in this issue. We think you’ll agree it’s a stellar shortlist.
This year’s equal-record field came from thirty-six different countries, a testament to international interest in the Jolley Prize (and ABR). Writers contemplated themes and topics such as the climate crisis, grief, pandemics, internet culture, academia, art, and rural life across a range of genres, from satire to speculative fiction to literary realism – and, in the case of ‘A Fall from Grace’, historical fiction, all too rare in contemporary Australian short fiction.
Here are the judges’ comments on the three feature stories:
‘A Fall from Grace’ is a deliciously enigmatic story, rich in the overtones of the international canon – Balzac, Calvino, Borges. Set in pre-revolutionary rural France, a talented painter’s career receives an unforeseen jolt that simultaneously shadows his life and propels his work from realist proficiency to metaphysical greatness. The story brilliantly elides character with environment, capturing us via a delicately crafted blend of reportage, imagery, and atmosphere. Ultimately, the writer’s own image-making power fuses with the compelling narrative of the painter, giving us the thrill of historical fiction at its most immersive.
In ‘The Enemy, Asyndeton’, Elizabeth is godmother to teenaged Julia, but actually it’s Julia’s younger sister, Asha, with whom Elizabeth feels the greater bond. One conversation ignites a peculiar obsession in Elizabeth, awakening her hitherto tepid godmotherly instincts. ‘The Enemy, Asyndeton’ is a delightful, nimble story; the characters bristle with life, and the dialogue is crisply rendered. The author deftly prevents Asha’s precocity from sliding into tweeness, and, although it becomes increasingly apparent that Elizabeth is making a little too much of Asha’s ‘seething inner brilliance’, the author depicts Elizabeth’s predicament with warmth, understanding, and humour.
In ‘There Are No Stars Here, Either’, a woman named Caroline travels through Italy while conducting an online relationship with D, a man she met two weeks earlier. This story is written in effervescent sentences that capture the enthusiasm and fickleness of its narrator as well as of her continuous headlong movement. Also captured are the intensities of youthful romance, a state in which the imagination is irrepressible, even when it has little to go on. The story pokes gentle fun at the strange pull of a mediated life over real-world experiences: the pull is strong enough to have Caroline barely taking in the prodigious beauty that surrounds her, such as the paintings of the Italian Renaissance in the Florence galleries or the palaces, piazzas, and canals of Venice.
The shortlist was chosen from our most international longlist to date. The other eleven stories in contention at this level were: ‘What Happened on Djinn Island’ by Shastri Akella (USA); ‘A Dog’s Life’ by Dominic Amerena (Australia/ Greece); ‘The Funeral of Maria Luisa Rafaella Ciervo’ by Melinda Borysevicz (Italy); ‘The Memorial’ by David Cohen (Queensland); ‘Ghost’ by Daryl Li (Singapore); ‘Furniture’ by Jennifer Mills (SA); ‘Everything Bagel’ by Matthew Pitt (USA); ‘The Annex’ by Anthony Purdy (Canada); ‘Revisionist’ and ‘Sanitas Sanitatis’, both by Liza St James (USA); and ‘Ver Says’ by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (Victoria).
ABR warmly acknowledges the generous support of ABR Patron Ian Dickson, who makes the Jolley Prize possible in this lucrative form. We congratulate all the longlisted and shortlisted authors.
The Peter Porter Poetry Prize
Our poetry prize, long named after one of Australia’s greatest poets, is on again for the eighteenth time, with total prize money of $10,000, of which the winner will receive $6,000. The judges this year are the poets Sarah Holland-Batt (Chair of ABR), Jaya Savige, and Anders Villani (recently named an ABR Rising Star). Poets have until October 4 to enter. See our website for full details.
Each month we ask our Open Page subject if artists are valued in our society. Rarely do they say yes. But Amanda Lohrey did in September 2020 (‘Yes, surprisingly so’). Well, Lohrey rose even higher in people’s esteem on July 15 when she won the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award for her novel The Labyrinth (Text Publishing). Lohrey, who receives $60,000, has been nominated before: Camille’s Bread (1996) and The Philosopher’s Doll (2005). She is only the second Tasmanian to win the vaunted prize. (Christopher Koch won in 1985, and then again in 1996. Richard Flanagan, oft-shortlisted, has never won it, as we all well know.)
The Labyrinth grapples with questions of guilt, denial, familial relationships, the (de)constructive power of art, and life’s many mazes. Reviewing the book for ABR, Morag Fraser described The Labyrinth as a narrative ‘so bracing – like salt spray stinging your face – that one is borne forward inexorably, as if caught in the coastal rip that is one of the novel’s darker motifs’.
The ABR Patrons’ Fellowship
Thanks to our loyal and generous Patrons, we’re able to offer our twenty-first ABR Fellowship. This one, worth $10,000, is unthemed. We seek applications from published writers and commentators, however young. The chosen Fellow will, over the course of twelve months, contribute three substantial articles to the magazine. Applications close on September 1, and full details can be found on our website.
Timely, but timeless
Island magazine’s inaugural Nonfiction Prize, worth $3,000, was conceived amid 2020’s pandemic pandemonium, when Covid-19 seemed to be the only subject on people’s minds. Curiously, Anna Spargo-Ryan, one of judges, said that she had ‘expected to reject Covid-19 stories out of hand. I thought we had heard all the stories the pandemic had to tell.’ Nonetheless, Megan Clement’s essay ‘In Quarantine’ was chosen from the 300 or so entries. Spargo-Ryan described the essay as ‘a story about family, human connection and the barriers we will try to smash to be close to the people we love. It’s timely, but it’s timeless, too.’ ‘In Quarantine’ will appear in Island ’s July issue.
Megan Clement, who often writes for ABR, will be back next month with a Letter from Paris.