Our aim in creating the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship was to honour Hazel Rowley, who died unexpectedly in March 2011, and to support the writing of high-quality biography. Hazel was a world-class biographer who wrote four critically acclaimed books: about Christina Stead, Richard Wright, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. Her subjects were all courageous people who were willing to take risks to live their lives authentically and meaningfully. These were qualities Hazel shared.
When we launched the Fellowship in 2011, we had no idea whether it would be successful or not. What we have discovered is how much can be achieved with small amounts of money, lots of goodwill, and enthusiastic supporters. Recently, we opened applications for the 2022 Fellowship. This year we’ve been able to increase the Fellowship amount to $20,000, thanks to continuing donations and excellent funds management from Australian Communities Foundation (ACF). (Until 2017 the Fellowship was worth $10,000; then it rose to $15,000.)
The Fellowship supports a writer who is working on a biographical project. To us it seems more important than ever to support the arts in whatever way we can.
In July 2021, Melbourne University Press published Life as Art: The biographical writing of Hazel Rowley (edited by Della Rowley and Lynn Buchanan), a collection of Hazel’s essays, talks, and journal entries, some previously unpublished. It is a fascinating insight into her craft of biography. (Brenda Walker reviewed the collection in the August 2021 issue of ABR.)
We believe in the importance of a strong arts sector as one of the foundations of a strong and inclusive society. We want to promote discussion of ideas through the publication of biography and memoir about interesting, thought-provoking subjects. It has been wonderful for us personally to make a small contribution to this. Books matter. Writers matter.
The Fellowship began modestly, with $20,000 in capital. We were able to build this up with donations from family and friends. In 2011 we invested our money with ACF and partnered with Writers Victoria to administer the Fellowship. We chose to create a Fellowship because we knew from Hazel’s experience how hard it is for writers who are between publications and trying to decide whom to write about next and to fund their research.
We have been privileged to work with wonderful and distinguished Fellowship judges: Alex Miller, Jim Davidson, Janine Burke, Arnold Zable, Jenny Hocking, Jeff Sparrow, and Clare Wright.
As well as the Fellowship, each year we celebrate the announcement with a memorial lecture or panel discussion. Our speakers have included Alex Miller, David Marr, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Jenny Hocking, and Maria Tumarkin.
To date, six books supported by the Fellowship have been published: An Unconventional Wife: The life of Julia Sorell Arnold by Mary Hoban (winner of the 2019 History Book Award and the Non-Fiction Book Award in Queensland Literary Awards); Interestingly Enough … The life of Tom Keneally by Stephany Steggall; The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke (2017 Multicultural NSW Award in NSW Premier’s Literary Awards); Vida: A woman for our time by Jacqueline Kent; Into the Loneliness: The unholy alliance of Ernestine Hill and Daisy Bates by Eleanor Hogan; and Only Happiness Here: In search of Elizabeth von Arnim by Gabrielle Carey. Now we look forward to Ann-Marie Priest’s book on Gwen Harwood, due to be published in 2022.
Further details about our Fellows can be found on www.hazelrowley.com