Sydney writer Tracy Ellis is the winner of the 2023 Calibre Essay Prize for her essay 'Flow States'. Her name will be very familiar to ABR readers: Tracy won the 2022 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize for her story 'Natural Wonder'. (She is the first person to win both Calibre and the Jolley Prize.)
The judges – Yves Rees (past winner of the Calibre Prize), Peter Rose (Editor of ABR), and Beejay Silcox (critic and artistic director of the Canberra Writers Festival) – chose ‘Flow States’, the winning essay, from a field of 397 entries. Tracy Ellis receives $5,000 for her winning essay and the runner-up, Bridget Vincent, receives $2,500 for her essay 'Child Adjacent' which will appear in a future issue of the magazine.
‘Flow States’ begins with a single drop of water – a household tap left running. ‘As any plumber, doctor, or government knows, a little leak is never insignificant,’ writes Tracy Ellis. ‘A dripping hose can fill a swimming pool, a burst artery can drain your life away, a wily hacker can flood the porous, stateless internet with classified information and change the course of history.’ And so, from a single dripping tap, Ellis draws out a tale of the obliterative power – real, existential, and metaphorical – of floodwater.
‘Flow States’ impressed the Calibre judges with its elegance, layered richness, and sharp-eyed observation. It is an essay that invites – rewards – rereading. Part memoir, part cultural history, and part solastalgic elegy, ‘Flow States’ behaves like its subject: it ebbs and whorls. The result is something that speaks to our perma-crisis present, but tells a much older story.
Our 2023 runner-up, ‘Child Adjacent’ considers the culturally slippery responsibilities – and possibilities – of aunthood. ‘I am not the mother,’ writes Bridget Vincent, a writer originally from Ballarat. ‘I am an aunt instead, if “instead” is even the right word. There are categories – infertile, childless by circumstance, childless by choice – and within these, more specific groups like the Birthstrikers, who are publicly delaying procreation until there is climate action. Being an aunt of the Anthropocene is none of these and all of them at once.’
As wry as it is compassionate, ‘Child Adjacent’ impressed the judges with its conceptual freshness. It is an essay that broadens our understanding of family building, and interrogates the terrors and moral exigencies of parenting in the climate crisis. Vincent’s essay does subtle, private things in reverberative ways, which is the mark of an enduring essay.
Tracy Ellis on winning the Calibre Essay Prize:
‘It’s such an honour to be awarded the Calibre Essay Prize. I feel extraordinarily lucky that my essay resonated with the judges. To win on the back of the Jolley Prize brings an immense double happiness. ABR sets a high benchmark with the way they run Calibre and the Jolley. Having worked with Editor Peter Rose and the ABR staff on the Jolley Prize last year, I can testify to their integrity, refreshing lack of cynicism, and genuine respect for writers. These awards and acknowledgements do matter – they help enormously on both a professional and practical level. I’m extremely grateful to ABR, the judges, and Patrons, and give thanks for my good fortune.’
About Tracy Ellis
Tracy Ellis lives in Sydney and works as an editor in digital and print media. She was winner of the 2022 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and runner-up for the 2022 Writing NSW Varuna Fellowship. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from UTS.
2023 Calibre Prize Shortlist.
The eleven shortlisted essays are (in alphabetical order):
‘The Dark Side of Paradise’ by Ben Arogundade (UK)
‘Heimat’ by Ina Skär Beeston (UK)
‘Private Leo, My Imaginary Father’ by Kevin Brophy (VIC)
‘The Genealogies of Mr Senior’ by Martin Edmond (NSW)
‘See it Now’ by Jaimee Edwards (NSW)
‘Flow States’ by Tracy Ellis (NSW) - winner
‘The Muse of Potential Motherhood’ by Madison Godfrey (WA)
‘Blade of Grass, Meadow of Knives’ by Dan Hogan (NSW)
‘The Morning Belongs to Us’ by Siobhan Kavanagh (VIC)
‘Stone Country’ by John Stockfeld (VIC)
‘Child Adjacent’ by Bridget Vincent (VIC) - runner-up
Calibre Essay Prize:
The Prize, now in its seventeenth year, is one of the world’s leading awards for an original essay. We thank ABR Patrons Peter McLennan and Mary-Ruth Sindrey for supporting the Calibre Prize.