My Tongue Is My Own: A Life of Gwen Harwood

Ann-Marie Priest

2023 Winner

Book cover

Judges' Comments

This is the book Gwen Harwood deserved. It is substantial, peppered with literary scandal and precise in its craft. Ann-Marie Priest has captured completely the sprite-like nature of one of Australia’s finest poets; a woman who used a fierce intellect and penchant for trickery to upend dusty institutions that steadfastly refused to see women as capable or talented. 

 My Tongue Is My Own manages a social history of Australia through the Great Depression, the Second World War and the postwar boom that is vivid and artistic, seen through the eyes of a girl from Brisbane who seems to discover the world as the nation does. All the while there is Harwood’s quixotic desire to have everything and do everything, unless of course she was not good at it. Through these pages, the great poet feels so alive. 

Harwood also had an uncanny ability to transform prejudice against her gender into delightful literary mischief.  She was able to transcend the drudgery of her assigned role of wife and mother into original and powerful poetic forms. The biography delves, as well, into Harwood’s early training as a pianist, and how her musical background extended naturally into her practice as a poet.    

The judges were unanimous in choosing this work as the ultimate National Biography Award winner, considering that it combines all the required elements of quality of research; scholarship and analysis; lucid writing and organised presentation; a perceptive understanding of an elusive subject, and a creative approach.    

This is a fine work, a genuine joy to read. 



Ann-Marie Priest

Ann-Marie Priest is a Queensland-based writer and critic. She received the 2017 Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship to write her biography of Gwen Harwood, My Tongue Is My Own. Her book A Free Flame: Australian Women Writers and Vocation in the Twentieth Century was highly commended in the 2016 Dorothy Hewett Awards. She is a senior lecturer at Central Queensland University.

Updated on 01 November 2023