A pair of ragged claws
ON Tuesday Joe Hockey will hand down a budget that by all reports will have the headline writers reaching for a sharper phrase than “razor gang’’. Big swingeing deficits unsettle the arts community and in recent weeks I have heard a lot of people worry out loud about the future of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, which at a total prize pool of $600,000 are hardly small change in the PFE (present fiscal environment: we may as well ready the acronym). The awards, which were one of Kevin Rudd’s better ideas, have grown from their modest launch in 2008 to become an important celebration of local literature, in prestige second only to the Miles Franklin Literary Award. This year the awards are due to be presented in six categories — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, history, young adult fiction and children’s literature — each worth $80,000 to the winner. This is what has people talking: while entries closed on February 28, Arts Minister George Brandis, who is responsible for the awards, has yet to announce the judging panels. And because a vacuum is a great incubator for a conspiracy, there is speculation the judging panels will be stacked with “conservatives’’. Personally, I don’t care if the judges are “conservatives” or “radicals’’ or something in-between, as long as they know good books when they see them. But the timing of the PM’s award is more problematic. It has been all over the shop in its half-decade life, and I thought that in 2011 there was a vague pledge to stick to a timetable that would see shortlists announced in May-June and winners in JulyAugust. That sort of timing is still possible this year, of course, and it is to be hoped that once the budget is out of the way, Brandis will let us know what’s going on. As this column went to press on Wednesday, the advice from his office was: “The awards judging panels are reviewed each year by the prime minister and minister for the arts. An announcement of the awards judging panels is expected soon. The date for the announcement of the shortlists and winners will be determined in due course.’’ Fair enough; we will wait to hear more. SPEAKING of the Miles Franklin, which is worth $60,000 to the winner, this year’s shortlist will be announced on Thursday. The 11 contenders are: Tracy Farr’s The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Ashley Hay’s The Railwayman’s Wife, Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby, Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, Nicolas Rothwell’s Belomor, Trevor Shearston’s Game, Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy, Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book and Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing. It’s such a strong longlist that I am assuming a shortlist of six. I think The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Eyrie, The Swan Book and The Night Guest are near certain inclusions. Take your pick for the other two spots.
Quote of the week:
“The literary novel as an artwork and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes. Let me refine my terms: I do not mean narrative prose fiction tout court is dying — the kidult boywizardsroman and the soft sadomasochistic porn fantasy are clearly in rude good health. And nor do I mean that serious novels will either cease to be written or read. But what is already no longer the case is the situation that obtained when I was a young man. In the early 1980s, and I would argue throughout the second half of the last century, the literary novel was perceived to be the prince of art forms, the cultural capstone and the apogee of creative endeavour.’’
English novelist Will Self, delivering the Richard Hillary memorial lecture, announces the death of the serious novel (again). You can find a long extract from Self’s lecture on The Guardian’s website.
May 10-11, 2014