By Greg Volz
The 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
A book of verse about a young Aboriginal girl in the late 1880s has taken out the $10,000 Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Ali-Cobby Eckermann’s series of poems, Ruby Moonlight, also won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, worth $30,000.
Ruby Moonlight is the story of Ruby, who survived the massacre of her entire family, wandering though Ngadjuri land. “I’m pleased that the literature society can appreciate the telling of Aboriginal history, by an Aboriginal voice,” said Ms Eckermann, speaking from Ireland where she is travelling as a poetry ambassador. “I think that’s a new thing that’s rising, and something that’s been missing for many decades, at least.”
Ali said she hopes Ruby Moonlight’s win promotes a “new, stronger, prouder, healing in Australia”.
At the NSW State Library on Sunday night, the annual literary address was given by novelist Dr Kathryn Heyman, who taught creative writing at Oxford and now mentors emerging writers in Britain and Australia.
Dr Heyman reminded her fellow writers that in the age of Twitter and the 140-character limit, what they do really matters. “Technology requires stories, narrative, the injection of meaning,” she said. “It matters terribly, this act of imagining.”
The $40,000 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction went to Carrie Tiffany, fresh from winning the Stella Award, for her second novel, Mateship with Birds. In her acceptance speech she spoke of her youthful enthusiasm, when she eagerly wrote to some of her fellow shortlisted writers after first reading their works: “All of them had the good sense not to reply.”
Ms Tiffany will appear at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on Friday morning in A Prize of One’s Own, a discussion based around the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing.
Another author shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize, Charlotte Wood, won the online People’s Choice award for her novel Animal People.
The UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing ($5,000) went to Michael Sela for his debut novel The Last Thread. The story follows the growth of a boy to manhood, from the Netherlands to Australia and back again. The Last Thread was a decade-long labour of love, which included time working on it while studying medicine. “I’d take all these books about the heart down into the library. And then I’d start writing,” he said. “After six weeks, I didn’t know anything about the heart, but I had a decent manuscript.”
The prize for the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000) went to Dr Tim Soutphommasane for Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From. In his acceptance speech, Mr Soutphommasane, now a noted writer and thinker, contrasted the grand old Mitchell Room in the State Library – the evening’s venue – to his life growing up in Cabramatta, where he discovered the Whitlam Library. “I feel like I’ve won the meat raffle,” said Mr Soutphommasane.
Gideon Haigh won the $40,000 Douglas Stewart Prize for non-fiction for The Office: A Hard Working History, which the judges described as “elegant, witty and informative, the work of a long-form journalist in his prime”.
Peter Boyle won the biennial NSW Premier’s Translation Prize ($30,000) for his work over many years translating French and Spanish poetry. The veteran writer and three-times Miles Franklin winner, David Ireland, was acknowledged with a special award inrecognition of his achievements.
The other winners were: Aaron Blabey, who won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature for his storyThe Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon; Jaclyn Moriarty, whose book A Corner of White won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature;Reg Cribb whose play The Damned won the Nick Enright Playwriting Award; and Louise Fox, who took out the Betty Roland prize for Scriptwriting for Dead Europe.