I was lucky enough to attend the 2nd annual Queensland Literary Awards last night – The People’s Literary Awards after the Newman government, as one of its first acts, cut funding and dismantled the previous Premier’s awards.
Well poo to you Can Do Campbell. It’s better this way. Just don’t send along one of your lackey’s next time and try to muscle in on the action. Handing out a few $15 000 fellowships doesn’t make you a friend of the literary community, I’m afraid.
The minister for just about everything else including the arts, made a quick speech, explaining that he had to rush off to the (not said, but surely felt) much more important Rugby League Awards. I wonder how much money Rugby League received from the state coffers? And hey, aren’t football players PAID? Thousands of dollars every year? Excuse me while I just pop another bottle of Moet and polish the Porsche with it.
Anyway, enough moaning. At least he was forced to read two short stories as part of the process, so we’ve increased his literacy.
Once he left, the mood lightened and we celebrated some truly wonderful writing and the hard work of the organising committee, especially the magnificent Claire Booth who has worked for a whole year as manager, unpaid. Cheers were loudest for the locals and two favourites took out the big prizes, Kris Olsson for the wonderful Boy Lost and Melssia Lucashenko for Mullumbimby. I’m not sure but Melissa could be the first indigenous woman to take out a major fiction prize in Australia. Well done to them both – tireless, inspiring writers.
Cate Kennedy took out the Steele Rudd Short story prize, the only award for short story collections in the country, with her Like A House on Fire.
This year mentorships were given to the shortlistees of the emerging writer categories, both for indigenous and mainstream. A wonderful idea. Mentorships are worth their weight in gold anytime, but especially when you’re just starting out. Well done QLA Committee.
The O’Hara family sponsored the emerging writer prize in memory of their late mother. Three of her daughters took to the stage and honoured the “fight in the dog” of every writer, acknowledging the sheer guts it takes just to finish writing a manuscript let alone getting it published.
My favourite speech of the night was by the winner of the Young Adult Book Award, Jaclyn Moriarty,(A Corner of White) who told us about growing up in a house where pocket money was only paid if you’d filled an exercise book with stories. $1.50. Her wily father then used to win their earnings back with a toy roulette wheel. But what moved me was when she talked about receiving letters from her teenage readers. One thirteen year old wrote, “when I’m feeling bad, I hold one of your books and I feel better.” Jaclyn went on to talk about how important books are because they provide this comfort. That it is through literature that we, perhaps for the first time, or the only time, feel that we are not isolated. And, she went on, this is why literary awards and the prize money they provide, are important too. Because they give writers the time and space they need to create the books that provide this comfort and connection.
She further endeared herself by forgetting to take her prize and then stumbling as she left the podium. She probably thought she’d made a mess of things, but for me, she’d touched the very heart of why we write and read. To find and give that comfort.