The New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards were presented last night at the State Library. At one stage I thought I might be able to go as a handbag, but it turned out handbags had to pay their own way, so you won’t see a pic of me in cocktail attire on Twitter. But speaking of Twitter, it’s now possible to participate in such events by proxy and non-simultaneously. Here’s my version of the evening.
The earliest interesting tweet was from someone worrying about the dress code. I could have told her not to worry. This is an event for writers, and though some of the pics that began to appear at hashtag
#PremiersLitAwards at about 6 o’clock were decidedly glam, there were plenty to put the worrier’s mind at ease.
Uncle Allan Madden did the welcome to Country, playwright Ross Mueller delivered the Address (in which, as well as saying some wise things about the arts he made an AFL joke or two and commented, amicably I hope, on recent events to do with literary awards in Queensland), Acting Premier and Arts Minister Troy Brampton spoke briefly, so did Richard Neville the Mitchell Librarian, and the show was on the road.
John George Ajaka, NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, announced the winner of the biennial Prize for Translation and the inaugural NSW Early Career Translator Prize. Brian Nelson won the former, and Lilit Zelukin the latter. Few if any other literary awards include prizes for translation, so these are a win for all translators.
Multicultural NSW Award. I saw Donna Abela’s Jump for Jordan at the Griffin Theatre Company last year with the wonderful Alice Ansara, and would have been happy to see it win. The winner, Black and Proud: The story of an AFL photo by Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond, is a book I hope to read.
Of the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting shortlist I’d only seen Brothers Wreck by Jada Alberts, featuring Hunter Page-Lochard’s terrifying performance of a young man on the edge of self-destruction, at Belvoir. The smart money was on Tom Wright’s Black Diggers, about World War One’s Aboriginal soldiers. The smart money had it right.
The Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting was taken out by The Babadook by Jennifer Kent. I’m glad on two counts: it’s good to see a genre piece being gonged, and this film in particular has been much more honoured abroad than at home. Jennifer Kent’s acceptance remarks were recorded on Twitter as mentioning the joys of libraries.
The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature was shared by Tamsin Janu’s Figgy in the World and Catherine Norton’s Crossing, both published by Scholastic Omnibus.
The Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature went to The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, who shared some letters from her readers..
(At about this point in the evening, the ABC Book Club’s Twitter account decided that the embargo was lifted and revealed the remaining winners. This would have been the moment to lay bets on David Williamson.)
The favourite for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry was surely David Malouf’s Earth Hour, which happens to be the only shortlisted book I’d read. It won. David was described on Twitter as ‘wonderful’, ‘amazing’ and an ‘Australian icon’. A text sent to me from the room described him as ‘ever gracious and lovely’.
How do people possibly choose among the range of books shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction? Intimate memoir, passionate court reporting, grand history, cultural essays: it’s a lot harder than apples vs oranges. However, choose the judges did, and gave the gong to Don Watson’s The Bush. In accepting the prize he said, no doubt with his usual gloomy demeanour: ‘You need encouragement when you’re young, but also when you’re old.’
The UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing: I’ve just finished reading Omar Musa’s Here Come the Dogs (blog post to come after the book group meets) and was backing it to win. The actual winner, An Elegant Young Man by Luke Carman, is a worthy recipient of whom I am a fan, though I expect the judges did some soul searching when they realised he was the only white man on the shortlist. Omar Musa congratulated Luke on Twitter within minutes.
The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, generally regarded as the big prize of the night, went to The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw, who compared writing a novel to running a marathon.
The special award was given to David Williamson. The State Library’s tweeter described his work as laconic. Is that the sound of pedants writhing? Laconic or not, the tall man is giving his prize money to the Ensemble Theatre to ensure the production of new Australian work. [Later: My mistake. The tweet in question said iconic, not laconic. I’m not sure how DW is iconic, but that description fits him better than the other.]
The book of the year went to Don Watson for The Bush, who Twitter said was dumbstruck.
Voting for the People’s Choice Prize, which is restricted to the grown-up novels – so Helen Garner and Biff Ward aren’t in the running – closes at midnight on Thursday. The prize will be announced on Friday.
So there you have it. Congratulations all round. People in the room acknowledged the Auslan signers. I acknowledge the tweeters. It was almost like being there.