The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards celebrated 40 years in grand style in the beautiful Mitchell Library Reading Room at the State Library of NSW last night.
It was a great celebration of quality, diverse books.
Michael Mohammed Ahmed, winner of the Multicultural Award for The Lebs (Hachette) opened with a prayer for the victims of the Christchurch and Sri Lankan terrorist attacks. It was a delight to see Benjamin Gilmour win the Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting with Jirga. Gilmour has a heart for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and I remember moderating his first (excellent) session at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival about Warrior Poets.
In the awards for literature for young people, it was thrilling to see joint winners in the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature. Lorraine Marwood won with her verse novel, Leave Taking (UQP), which I reviewed last year. Lorraine explained that a verse novel isn’t easy to write or to be accepted. This tale is intended to help children deal with the grieving process related to cancer.
The other winning book in the children’s category was Dingo written by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Tannya Harricks (Walker Books). This is an exceptional work and wonderful to see children’s non-fiction acclaimed in this context. In her speech, Claire described our “country of ironic animals and world full of wonder”. She expressed gratitude “for the opportunity to share our curiosity and passion with young people”.
Rising star Erin Gough won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature from a very strong shortlist with her consummately paced novel, Amelia Westlake (Hardie Grant Egmont). This is an arresting, funny book with strong voices. Erin thanked the #loveOZYA community and dedicated her award to “young queer readers”.
In other categories, Judith Bishop won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry with Interval (UQP); Michelle De Kretser won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction with The Life to Come (A&U), Behrouz Boochani won the Special Award for No Friend but the Mountains (Pan Macmillan), Trent Dalton won the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing with his much-loved Boy Swallows Universe (HarperCollins) as well as the People’s Choice Award and Billy Griffiths won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction as well as Book of the Year for Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia (Black Inc. Books). Billy graciously acknowledged those who gave him the stories for this book and reminded us of the Uluru Statement – “to confront our past and reimagine our future”.
Congratulations to all the shortlisted creators, as well as the winners. All have achieved a remarkable feat.
Thank you to the excellent awards coordinators, Sara and Mandy; and to Dr John Vallance, State Librarian; Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of NSW; and everyone else involved in supporting Australian literature.
How sad to hear about the death of our great poet, Les Murray.
We probably own all of his books and Les read his poetry in our home for our inaugural “Be Inspired” soiree series several years ago. He arrived early and enjoyed the sandwiches that my mother-in-law made for him. Our friends and family were rivetted by his readings and insights into his poems. He thanked us in our visitors’ book by writing that we knew how to treat a poet! What a humble yet brilliant treasure of a man.
In his acceptance speech last night Trent Dalton told us about the two days he spent with Les and his wife Valerie in their home. Les folded a towel for his bed, cooked him fried eggs for breakfast and shared red wine.
Trent quoted from Home Suite:
Home is the first
and final poem
and every poem between
has this mum home seam.
Home’s the weakest enemy…
Trent urged, “Don’t be afraid to go home. Always remember you can go home”.
Trent Dalton’s interview with Les Murray https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/final-stanza-for-a-bush-poet/news-story/b4667779dab222b88d7176f6cc0f7c56