Foundation for Australian Literary Studies News & Events MEDIA RELEASE: 2023 Roderick Literary Award Longlist Announced - but who will win?

MEDIA RELEASE: 2023 Roderick Literary Award Longlist Announced - but who will win?

Thursday 20th July 2023

15 books have been longlisted for the 2023 Margaret and Colin Roderick Literary Award, including an art book and an encyclopaedic dictionary.

The award is one of Australia’s oldest literary awards and attracts a large and diverse range of entries.  It is worth emphasising that the Margaret and Colin Roderick Literary Award is the most wide-ranging literary prize in Australia: for the best Australian book, it is not limited by genre, gender, place of residence, or career stage.

The 225 submissions reflected this diversity. And so does the Longlist ….

The longlisted titles are:

  • AIATSIS Ngirramanujuwal — The Art and Country of Jimmy Pike [Aboriginal Studies Press]
  • Meg Bignell — The Angry Women's Choir [Michael Joseph Australia]
  • Judy Cotton — Swimming Home [Black Inc.]
  • Sophie Cunningham — This Devastating Fever [Ultimo Press]
  • Robert Drewe — Nimblefoot [Hamish Hamilton Australia]
  • Pip Harry — August & Jones [Hachette Australia]
  • Sarah Holland-Batt — The Jaguar [University of Queensland Press]
  • Chloe Hooper — Bedtime Story [Simon & Schuster Australia]
  • Gail Jones — Salonika Burning [Text Publishing]
  • Mary Laughren et al — Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary [Warlpiri yimi-kirli manu jaru-kurlu] [Aboriginal Studies Press]
  • Brett Mason — Wizards of Oz [NewSouth Publishing]
  • Mat McLachlan — The Cowra Breakout [Hachette Australia]
  • Hayley Scrivenor — Dirt Town [Pan Macmillan Australia]
  • Jock Serong — The Settlement [Text Publishing]
  • Amy Thunig — Tell Me Again: A Memoir [University of Queensland Press]

Quick facts:

  • 3 books with first nations authors [Pike, Warlpiri, Thunig]
  • a young adult book [Harry]
  • 3 first books [Cotton, Thunig, Scrivenor]
  • 3 books by previous winners [Jones, Serong, Drewe]
  • 2 memoirs (one by an artist [Cotton]; one by an Indigenous writer [Thunig])
  • an art book [Pike]
  • an encyclopaedic dictionary
  • 11/15 have female authors.
  • 11 different publishers

The Margaret and Colin Literary Award was founded in 1967 and recognises the best original book, in the judges' opinion, that was published in Australia in the previous calendar year for the first time. Submissions must deal with any aspect of Australian life and can be in any field or genre of writing, verse or prose.

It is valued at $30,000 and is presented by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies. It is also coupled with the silver H.T. Priestley Memorial Medal. The foundation is based at James Cook University and is funded through the generosity of the late Professor Colin Roderick CBE, his late wife Mrs Margaret Roderick, as well as donations and membership from the general public.

Last year’s winner was Emily Bitto for Wild Abandon (Allen & Unwin).

The shortlist will be announced in late August, with the winner’s name revealed at the annual award presentation by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies in October.

Longlist and judges’ comments:

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies [AIATSIS] Ngirramanujuwal: The Art and Country of Jimmy Pike. Aboriginal Studies Press

This beautiful book is a map of country, an art book, a guide to country and a celebration of place and culture. It reproduces Pike’s extraordinary luminous drawings and paintings alongside accompanying stories and photographs, generously introducing readers to Ngurrara (home country) around Juwaliny (the Great Sandy Desert), depicting law, land, seasons, creatures and plants.

Meg Bignell The Angry Women's Choir. Michael Joseph Australia

With some cynicism and with humour, The Angry Women’s Choir looks long and hard at feminism and the patriarchy in the 2020s. The women are angry, and their anger produces not just beautiful music but a national movement of reform. All seven women who make up the choir have fascinating stories – a good read with a strong message.

Judy Cotton Swimming Home. Black Inc.  

Another first book by a very accomplished writer (and a very significant artist), it frequently surprises the reader with seemingly random changes of narrative focus, chronology and even tone. A finely-written, and ultimately very coherent, account of the long life-journey “home” to Australia and changes in perceptions and relationships.

Sophie Cunningham This Devastating Fever. Ultimo Press

This novel cleverly addresses the fictional nature of life writing, intertwining the stories and lives of autobiographical subjects–Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf—with that of an imagined biographer, Alice Fox.  It is also a lively and witty meditation on the struggles, pleasures and politics of writing.  Setting part of the book during the COVID pandemic uncovers unexpected ways in which past lives infiltrate the present.

Robert Drewe Nimblefoot. Hamish Hamilton Australia

What happened next? is the basis for this fascinating tale of Johnny Day, a little boy from Ballarat. At ten he became the World Champion in pedestrianism, the sporting craze of the day. A few years later he won the Melbourne Cup on a horse called Nimblefoot and then he disappeared. Drewe reimagines what his life could have been, in a great yarn.

Pip Harry August & Jones. Hachette Australia

Aimed at the tween/teenage market, this book addresses some heartbreaking problems in an engaging way. Jones moves to the city from the country at eleven years old and befriends August. Together they face their problems with courage and humour – Jones has cancer, August has family problems but they make a bucket list of adventures and embark on them. Not just for kids, this is a great read.

Sarah Holland-Batt The Jaguar. University of Queensland Press.

A powerfully-coherent collection of strong, sometimes searing, sometimes intimate, poems written around the death of her father. The rhetorical, poetic, metaphoric language almost overwhelms as she attempts to use every tool at her disposal to come to terms with her grief.

Chloe Hooper Bedtime Story. Simon & Schuster Australia

This lyrical volume explores the possibility of a perfect story to convey and soften the hardest things.  It’s a memoir, a family celebration, an odyssey through the terrors of illness and death; a salutation to the power and promises of storytelling. Tracing her partner’s illness while searching for the perfect way to tell and protect her small sons, the writer highlights the joy of reading, and uncovers the transience and endurance of family life. Beautifully written, effectively and surprisingly illustrated, it is a storybook for dark and light times.

Gail Jones Salonika Burning. Text Publishing

This small gemlike book takes as its starting point the great fire which destroyed most of Salonika (Thessaloniki) in 1917.  It ranges across the lives of the women and some of the men in and around the Scottish Women’s Field Hospital at this World War 1 front, portraying moments of challenge and unspeakable damage and exploring the importance of reflection and self-reflection.

Mary Laughren, Kenneth Hale, Jeannie Egan Nungarrayi, Marlurrku Paddy Patrick Jangala, Robert Hoogenraad, David Nash, Jane Simpson, Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary/Warlpiri yimi-kirli manu jaru-kurlu. Aboriginal Studies Press.

A massive outcome of 50 years of collaborative research by Indigenous and non-Indigenous speakers and researchers from many disciplines, this is both a comprehensive dictionary of Warlpiri language and an encyclopaedia of a way of being and knowing which challenges Western comprehension.  For a non-Indigenous reader its arrangement of words and sentences with meanings and examples indicates the richness and complexity of Warlpiri culture and points to the wealth of living and endangered languages in Australia.

Brett Mason Wizards of Oz. NewSouth Publishing

Largely ignored by historians, two Adelaide men, Howard Florey and Mark Oliphant, played significant roles in the victory in WWII. Florey discovered how to create penicillin in large enough quantities to be useful; Oliphant developed microwave radar and persuaded the US to build the atom bomb. It’s detailed but fast moving and you can’t put it down.

Mat McLachlan The Cowra Breakout. Hachette Australia

While every Australian knows something about the breakout by Japanese prisoners of war in Cowra in WWII, this book sheds a new light on how and why it happened. It examines the motivations and expectations of both prisoners and their guards and explains how the differences in their cultures made reconciliation impossible. It brings history alive.

Hayley Scrivenor Dirt Town. Pan Macmillan Australia

An outstanding first novel about a disappearance in a small country town; a detective novel that manages to focus on the community, friends, families as well as the detective from the prelude, the day of disappearance, the search, and its aftermaths from many points-of-view. Detailed and finely-written Australian rural noir.

Jock Serong The Settlement. Text Publishing

The third in his Bass Strait historical trilogy is a moving account of interactions between the small group of Europeans and Tasmanian first nations people who end up in the doomed community at Wybalenna on Flinders Island. Deeply respectful, mournful, spirited and widely-researched.

Amy Thunig Tell Me Again: A Memoir. University of Queensland Press

Another first book, it’s a remarkably wise, compassionate and eloquent memoir by a young Gomeroi/ Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi woman: a work of both memory and discovery of the pressures of growing up in a pretty dysfunctional family; and a beautiful account of growth as a woman, a mother, a writer, a daughter and a wife while learning to live on new country and in a new professional identity.