Conditions of the Miles Franklin Award

In today's "Age" Jane Sullivan takes a potshot at the Miles Franklin Award, specifically at the conditions of entry.

To quote from the administrator's website: "The Miles Franklin Literary Award celebrates Australian character and creativity and nurtures the continuing life of literature based on Australia. It is awarded for the novel of the year which is of the highest literary merit and which presents Australian life in any of its phases." The kicker is in the phrase "Australian life in any of its phases". In the past this was interpreted to mean about
Australia, set in Australia and featuring Australian characters. Then Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse was disallowed entry in 1994, as was The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey in 1995, and the restrictive nature of the interpretation was shown to be a bit of a mockery. Moorhouse's book featured Australian characters in a European setting but this was not deemed "Australian enough". The interpretation was subsequently extended to allow books such as Moorhouse's and his sequel, Dark Palace, won the award in 2001.

As another twist, the criteria of the "novel" has been subverted in the past with Hannie Rayson's play, Life After George, being shortlisted in 2001. Now Sullivan raises the question of Geraldine Brooks's novel, March, which has just win the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction but which is ineligible for the Miles Franklin, given that it includes no relationship to Australian life in any form. In passing she also mentions Delia Falconer's novel, The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers, which finds itself in the same boat. As Sullivan puts it: "Times have changed in a good way for our books, and the prize hasn't kept up. When Miles Franklin first had the idea for the prize in her name, Australian literature about Australia was an endangered species that needed all the nurturing, protection and encouragement it could get."

I agree. Australian authors are out and about in the world, and neither they, nor Australia itself, are isolated away from the global village. If the Miles Franklin Award is the pre-eminent literary prize in Australia, then it must reflect the world in which it finds itself. It's time for us to grow up and move on.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 20, 2006 9:36 AM.

Great Australian Authors #24 - John Shaw Neilson was the previous entry in this blog.

Australia's Prime Minister and the Literature Syllabus is the next entry in this blog.

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