The judges of the Colin Roderick Award have just moved one step closer to finding a winner, today announcing a shortlist of just five books. Winners of the award, founded in 1967, receive a cheque for $20 000 and the silver H.T. Priestley Memorial Medal.
The Roderick Award is Australia’s most capacious book prize: it welcomes entries from authors and publishers of books for children and young adults, along with drama, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and even self-help and reference books. The winning book can be in “any field or genre”, but it must have been published in Australia in the previous calendar year.
Early winners of the Roderick Award reflected this breadth: these books include biographies, histories, poetry, and a work of literary criticism. The first novel to win was Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, in 1988. Nevertheless, this year’s shortlist is dominated by fiction.
Dr Leigh Dale, chair of the judging panel, said that she had found it “a real struggle” to leave off some fine works of non-fiction from both the shortlist and the long list. “I was pleased, though, that there is a collection of poetry on the shortlist, and a book of short stories”, said Dr Dale, adding that the judges had been conscious of recognising the breadth of the Award’s terms when reading entries.
That poetry collection is Judith Beveridge’s Sun Music: New and Selected Poems, a book that Beveridge’s fellow poet Geoff Page has described in the Sydney Morning Herald as “mandatory for anyone interested in Australian poetry over the last four decades or so”.
Another well-known author to make the shortlist is Robert Drewe, whose short story collection The True Colour of the Sea encompasses Australian experiences past and present in moments that are funny, sad, serious, and funny again.
Another writer with a strong track record, John Tesarsch, has been shortlisted for his novel Dinner with the Dissidents, a gripping spy story that links 1970's Russia with contemporary Australia.
Gail Jones is the only former winner of the Roderick Award to make this year’s shortlist, with her novel The Death of Noah Glass, which has already been shortlisted for several other major prizes this year. Jones took the cheque and silver medal in 2015 with A Guide to Berlin.
The final book on the shortlist is by first-time novelist Trent Dalton, a Brisbane journalist who has commented on the semi-autobiographical elements of his story. His Brisbane thriller, Boy Swallows Universe, has already attracted a lot of media attention.
Dr Dale said that the judges were now rereading the shortlisted books, to make sure that choice of “the best original book” as the Award demands was being made on solid ground.