Attending the 2009 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards

You already know the winners, but what was it like to be there? This was my first literary awards ceremony, and it was rowdier than I thought. My table was in front of some theatre folk, but they weren’t the only ones in the room whooping and shouting when the names were called out.

amyThe night began seriously enough, with Premier John Brumby, and Arts Minister Lynne Kosky – words both official and relaxed. Amy Espeseth (pictured) was announced as the winner of the Unpublished Manuscript prize, and teared up when thanking her mother in the audience, who was here all the way from Wisconsin.

Alexis Wright gave a thoughtful keynote speech about the power of story – and about how a way must be found for more voices to be heard – Indigenous voices, and those from places far and wide. Voices people don’t get to hear. She spoke of the ‘accumulated acts of randomness affecting Indigenous people across the country’, and she tied the themes of her speech into her experience of reading RL Stevenson’s Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes. Before the awards, Antoni Jach had introduced me to Alexis, along with Martine Murray, and Penguin publisher Bob Sessions. It was another one of those moments where I have a book on my to-read list and I’m standing with the author, and wish I could discuss their book, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Here is a great review of Carpentaria from Australian Women’s Book Review though.

The main people I was speaking to and enjoying the night with at my table were Aviva Tuffield, Scribefiction editor, and Jill Rawnsley, director of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. I haven’t been to NZ yet and I’d love to get over there for it in the next few years. Both ladies were lovely. Aviva shares my appreciation for Gail Jones, and I loved hearing Jill talk passionately about the schools program at her festival.

Highlights:

* Tom Griffiths, who won the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate, with ‘We Have Still Not Lived Long Enough’is donating his prize money in its entirety to a research project at Steels Creek (area affected by Black Saturday’s bushfires). This will allow him to ‘work with survivors to secure their stories and reinvent their futures’, he said.

saliba-sue* When Sue Saliba accepted the Prize for Young Adult Fiction for Something in the World Called Love she thanked her ‘animal companions’ and the animals around us ‘for their inspiration’. It was adorable. I’ve seen Saliba speak before, at a Penguin session featuring a bunch of their YA authors. She has a flirty kind of manner, nodding and twisting her body. She seems really sweet. And it was later confirmed that I was thinking the same thing as everyone else in the room when a person-who-shall-not-be-named said ‘…and she has an unbelievable rack’. Seriously, you can’t not notice.

* Lally Katz won the Louis Esson Prize for Drama, for Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd and thanked her ‘agents who double as psychiatrists’.

untitled* Robert Adamson was the perfect embodiment of ‘poet’, receiving the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry, for The Golden Bird. His long and wavy haircut is from somewhere around 1974 (and that is not a bad thing). He began by quoting Yeats– ‘soul clap its hands and sing, louder sing’. He said a philosopher friend told him ‘you can’t use the word “soul” anymore’. But a theologian friend said ‘all the more reason…’ Adamson said he’d been a professional poet since the age of 12. He had wanted to be an ornithologist, and even stole a bird from Taronga Zoo. In later, more difficult years, when Adamson was incarcerated, he discovered Gerard Manley Hopkins‘ poetry, and he loved it so much, he had to learn to write it, and that is what he is still doing, he said.

* Christos Tsiolkasaccepted the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction from his table, due to his broken foot. Being his usual lovely, generous self, he spoke about how ‘remarkable’ all the other shortlisted books were, particularly Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy. ‘I don’t know how you judge!’ he said. He also thanked independent booksellers, for the push they gave The Slap, and he said the best thing about his broken foot was his publisher and boyfriend were right beside him, and he could hug them both. Aww. Well deserved!

* The final highlight was the succulent steak, and the table-load of desserts to choose from. I ended up with a slice of rich lemon tart. Mmm. I couldn’t help analysing what the waiters and drink-fillers thought of the awards. How did it differ from other events they served at? Had any of them read the nominated books? What was their story and why were they placing a napkin on my lap? On the way home I shared a taxi with a girl going the same way. She’d just been working in a nearby restaurant, and on her shift Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had come in. She was interested in my night and my world, but hadn’t heard of any of the major authors. We were both on a bit of a high from our unexpected evenings. I thought about Katie Holmes being in Wonderboys – there is always a link to literature. That is what I would talk to Katie Holmes about.

Thanks again to Matthew van Hasselt and the SLV for the awards invitation.

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