NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Night 2021

For the second year in a row, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Night has been an online event. I was one of 65 people watching it at the beginning, an audience that grew to 68 near the end. Not exactly the Oscars.

Here’s how it went:

After a number of introductory speeches – by State Librarian John Vallance who quoted Aristotle in the State Library’s Shakespeare Room, Wiradjuri woman Yvonne Weldon who welcomed us to Gadigal land, President of the Library Council of NSW George Souris, Minister for the Arts Don Harwin who promoted the government’s support for literature, Premier Gladys Berejiklian who came out as a passionate reader. We then went on to the winners, presented by John Vallance except wher I note otherwise:

Multicultural NSW Award presented by Joseph La Posta, CEO of Multicultural NSW: Throat, Ellen van Neerven (UQP) – my blog post here. Ellen van Neerven skyped in. ‘This book has been more than just a book. It has been a chance to write alongside my mum among others …’

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize (awarded every second year) also presented by Joseph La Costa, to two winners: Imminence by Marian Dimópoulos, translated by Alice Whitmore (Giramondo) and Autumn Manuscripts, Tasos Leivaditis, translated by N. N. Trakakis (Smokestack Books). Both spoke beautifully; Nick quoted a poem.

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting: Milk, Dylan van den Berg (The Street Theatre). In true theatre style, the winner thanked many many people, including ‘the Mob’ in the ACT.

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting: Freeman, Laurence Billiet (General Strike and Matchbox Pictures). Laurence Billiet acknowledged her subject, Kathy Freeman. The novel was made during the Melbourne lockdown, ‘or should I say the Melbourne lockdowns’.

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature: The Grandest Bookshop in the World, Amelia Mellor (Affirm Press). ‘I was a broke student when I started writing this book.’ She thanked libraries for making the book possible.

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature: The End of the World is Bigger than Love, Davina Bell (Text). ‘I am honoured and humbled and genuinely shocked.’ Among other people, she singled out her editor to thank.

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry: Ellen van Neerven again.

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction: The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire, Kate Fullagar (Yale University Press). Thanked the army of scholars who helped her write it. ‘I will donate some of the prize money to two scholarly organisations.’ One is a Cherokee organisation. The other is Pacifika Student Organisation.

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing: Cherry Beach, Laura McPhee-Browne (Text). Interestingly, she thanked the judges by their first names. Her editor also got a big plug.

People’s Choice Award: The Dictionary of Lost Words, Pip Williams. when she has enjoyed a book she goes to the acknowledgements page and offers up a silent prayer of thanks to the author.

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction: A Room Made of Leaves, Kate Grenville (Text Publishing). ‘There is no best book, but the judges had to pick one, so thank you.’ She thanked the descendants of John and Elizabeth Macarthur for their generosity in depositing papers in the State Library, and spoke of Elizabeth Macarthur as a foremother.

Book of the Year, presented by the senior judge, Jane McCredie: Throat, Ellen van Neerven (UQP). They were stuck for words on their second prize, and even more so here. [Added later: But she did manage one glowing sentence: ‘It gives me a boost to continue doing what I’m attempting to do, which is to write as gently and as considerately as possible.’]

The Special Award: Melina Marchetta. Wow, and also Yay! Usually this prize goes to someone who is nearing the end of a career, possibly with death around the corner. Hopefully, Melina Marchetta has many yers of creativity and literacy activism ahead of her. She spoke of how stories came into her life around a table during meals, and she wishes she could be with us in person. ‘I feel so much pride that I wrote my first novel on Gadigal land.’ And she expressed gratitude to her family who allowed her – ‘I don’t know if they allowed me, but I did it anyhow’ – to use their stories. She dedicated the award to her daughter.

That was it.

You can watch the whole ceremony at:

5 responses to “NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Night 2021

  1. Thanks for this Jonathan. I watched the Oscars today – I know, I know, where are my priorities – but had forgotten about this one!

    How lovely to see Ellen Van Neerven win the Book of the Year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. PS As always, I love your succinct but entertaining write up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I forgot all about it too until I saw the #NSWPLA hashtags.
    There are too many of these books that I haven’t read… some because I don’t want to, but others because they were under my radar.

    Liked by 1 person

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