Miles Franklin Award Crisis?

With the winner of the 2005 Miles Franklin Award being announced tonight, Jason Steger ponders , in today's "Age", if there is major crisis facing Australian literary fiction.

I don't think anyone is bemoaning the lack of quality, all entries on this year's list appear to me to be of the highest standard, but it's the lack of entires that is the most disturbing. Books are entered for the award by their publisher who, I believe, can enter as many as they wish. Scattered amongst Steger's article are the statistics for the number of those entries by year. He doesn't give them all but the list he provides comes out as:

1995 - 60
1996 - 64
1997 - 84
1998 - 44
2001 - 54
2002 - 39
2005 - 43

Not all that flash really. The organisers of the award are trying new ways to attract readers to the shortlist by adding stickers to the covers of the novels announcing their nomination. And that's a good start. But more needs to be done.

Steger states that the judges and organisers of the Miles Franklin Award look covetously at the publicity generated in the UK by the Man Booker Prize. Even half that level would be a huge boost. Yet the Booker didn't get there in one year, it had to work at it. I lived in the UK during the period from 1990-92 (covering the period of three prizes) and don't remember any major events being staged. The books were in the shops, they were publicised by posters, dump-bins and book-marks, and all the books received extra reviews in the couple of weeks leading up to the announcement of the award, but there was no television coverage. And that might just be where the Miles Franklin Award needs to start: get the publicity out into the shops and try to persuade the papers to run extra reviews of the shortlisted titles, and get one of the television networks, either free-to-air or pay-tv, to cover the awards event. A quick look through tonight's television programs doesn't show anything yet the award is being presented by the film director Gillian Armstrong. Last year the awards were introduced and presented by Cate Blanchett, so obviously the organisers are attempting to add a bit of glamour to the event. The next step is getting the telecast out there.

Yes, there is a crisis in Australian literary fiction. But I don't believe we can sit still and wait for "one really successful novel to bring people back", as Random House executive publisher Jane Palfreyman states in Steger's article. That will only attract readers to that author's other works, not to Australian literature as a whole. It is possible to raise Australian literary fiction's profile, it just takes a little thought, innovation and judicious investment of funds. Highlighting the Miles Franklin Award strikes me as a good place to start.

As a final note: good luck to all the authors shortlisted tonight. They would all be worthy winners.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 23, 2005 11:31 AM.

The Cost of Australian Books was the previous entry in this blog.

Review: Sixty Lights by Gail Jones is the next entry in this blog.

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