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2021 - Highly commended
The Shelf Life of Zora Cross narrates the unconventional life of the early-twentieth-century poet and novelist, whose work is now largely forgotten. Often compared to Sappho and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Cross was the first Australian woman to write frankly about erotic experience from a female point of view, particularly in her first collection, Songs of Love and Life. Cross gave birth to four illegitimate children to three different men, and her daring life choices provided ample material for her once-celebrated poetry and prose.
In this astute biography, Cathy Perkins makes great use of the resources available at the State Library of NSW, not only researching the Zora Cross archives, but also those of her closest confidants, including Ethel Turner, Mary Gilmore, Norman Lindsay, and publisher George Robertson. Perkins’ choices to insert herself as researcher/author into the story, and to structure the biography non-chronologically, are both inspired and compelling. What emerges is a vivid mosaic of a fascinating life, and a valuable contribution to Australian literary history.