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Over 150 books were entered for the 2020 Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction and they each made very different claims for our attention. We read neglected histories and books devoted to the most urgent of contemporary topics; we read books distinguished by their literary style, by the quality and depth of their research, and by their timeliness. The books that kept our attention struck us with their originality, wit and a self-evident correspondence with contemporary affairs. Those that did not were marked by a rushed style, shoddy analysis, a reluctance to engage with existing bodies of knowledge and an indifferent attitude to the demands of the present. But most did keep our attention and demonstrated an enormous depth in non-fiction writing in Australia today.
The judging panel
Jane McCredie is an award-winning journalist, writer and reviewer who has been widely published in Australia and internationally. A former book publisher, she is the CEO of Writing NSW and the founder and director of the Quantum Words Festival of writing about science. She is the author of Making Girls and Boys: Inside the science of sex and was coeditor of the 2013 anthology of The Best Australian Science Writing. Jane is a graduate of the Australia Council’s arts leaders program and has previously chaired both the Christina Stead and Douglas Stewart panels of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
Catriona Menzies-Pike has been the editor of the Sydney Review of Books since 2015. Her book The Long Run was published in 2016. Her essays and reviews have been widely published.
Sheila Ngoc Pham
Sheila Ngoc Pham is a writer, editor and producer working in radio, print, online and film. She has written for a wide range of literary and mainstream publications with recent work in the Griffith Review, Sydney Review of Books, Meanjin and the New York Times, as well as publications by the State Library of NSW and Museum of Contemporary Art. She has held digital and editorial roles at the ABC and continues to produce documentaries and stories for ABC RN. Sheila is undertaking a PhD at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation and lectures in public health ethics at Macquarie University.
Tamson Pietsch is an historian, author and Director of the History Lab podcast. Her publications for academic and public audiences focus on the history and politics of higher education and ideas. She believes that the ways we make sense of who we are and how we got her helps to shape the societies we are striving to build. Originally from Adelaide, Tamson has worked at Oxford, Brunel and Sydney universities and is currently Director of the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney.
Associate Professor Richard White retired from the University of Sydney in 2013, having taught Australian history there since 1989. His publications include Inventing Australia, The Oxford Book of Australian Travel Writing, On Holidays: A History of Getting Away in Australia and Symbols of Australia. He has been a judge for the Premier’s Literary Awards and other history prizes, served on the Friends of the State Library committee and initiated the establishment of the History Council of NSW. He was co-editor of the journal History Australia from 2008 to 2013 and is a member of several editorial boards.
About the prize
The Douglas Stewart Prize ($40,000) is for a prose work other than a work of fiction. Books including biographies, autobiographies and works of history, philosophy and literary criticism may be nominated provided they display literary qualities. Oral histories are ineligible unless the author claims artistic responsibility for the majority of the text. Books compiled by an editor and/or consisting of contributions of more than four writers are not eligible for the Douglas Stewart Prize. An award will not be given for a work consisting principally of photographs or illustrations unless the text is of substantial length and of sufficient merit in its own right. In such cases, no part of the prize money will be paid to the photographer or illustrator. Nominators should be selective about the works entered into this category. Works must be considered literature.
About Douglas Stewart
The award was established to commemorate the lifetime achievement of Douglas Alexander Stewart (1913–1985), poet, essayist and literary critic. Stewart, born in Eltham, New Zealand, published his first poems while still at school. He later worked as a journalist for the local newspaper before travelling overseas. A large number of his poems were first published in The Bulletin. Stewart would take on the position of literary editor in 1940 until the magazine changed ownership in 1961. It was in this role that he encouraged a number of poets of his generation, including David Campbell and Judith Wright. Stewart moved to become publishing editor with Angus & Robertson until 1972.