2021 - Shortlisted
This is a meticulously researched biography of one of Australia’s most enigmatic politicians. Penny Wong was born in North Borneo in 1968 to an Australian mother and a Malaysian father of Cantonese descent. Growing up in Adelaide, she and her brother were subjected to appalling acts of racism, yet Wong excelled academically and, at the age of 33, was elected to the Senate, becoming one of the first Asians and the first openly gay woman in a representative body in the history of this country.
In researching this book, Simons was saddled with more than the usual burdens that beleaguer the contemporary biographer. The greatest challenge was the subject herself, who made it clear that she would not cooperate with Simons’ project. Over the course of the narrative, Simons doggedly pursues her elusive and occasionally hostile subject until she finally wins Wong’s trust and empathy. The result is a beautifully-layered story of the Labor politician’s complex public and private lives.