Announcing the winners of the 2023 National Biography Award
Ann-Marie Priest’s “perceptive” and “creative” biography of the elusive Gwen Harwood, one of Australia’s finest poets, has won this year’s $25,000 National Biography Award.
My Tongue Is My Own: A Life of Gwen Harwood (La Trobe University Press/ Black Inc.) reveals a deeply passionate figure who refused to be bound by convention, and reclaims Harwood’s unique and powerful place in Australian literary history. The judges were unanimous that My Tongue Is My Own is “the book Gwen Harwood deserves.” A substantial work peppered with literary scandal and mischief, they praised Priest’s “scholarship and analysis”, “perspective understanding of an elusive subject” and “creative approach.”
“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,” said Senior Judge Suzanne Falkiner. “Through these pages, the great poet feels so alive.”
This year the $5,000 Michael Crouch Award for a Debut Work was presented to Tom Patterson for Missing (Allen & Unwin), a gripping story about a brilliant misfit and former law student who lives for decades in the wilderness of northern New South Wales.
The judges commented, “This is an astonishing tale set at the edge of the Australian imagination, deep in the bush. Narrated in present tense, the writing is spare, unadorned and compulsively readable… Patterson takes documentary material and turns it, with great skill, into an account that is utterly absorbing.”
The winning authors will appear in conversation with last year’s winner for Leaping into Waterfalls: The Enigmatic Gillian Mears, Bernadette Brennan, and judge Rick Morton at the State Library of NSW on Saturday 19 August. Book your free ticket here.
The award is supported by the State Library of NSW Foundation, the Holman Family, Sarah Crouch, Rob Thomas AO and Sam Meers AO. This has been a fixture on Australia’s literary calendar thanks to the generosity of Dr Geoffrey Cains, the late Michael Crouch AC and the Nelson Meers Foundation.
Suzanne Falkiner is a Sydney writer. She has worked as an editor for book and magazine publishers, written book reviews and travel journalism, and run a small independent publishing company.
Among some dozen books of fiction and non-fiction, she has written a number of biographies, the most recent of which, Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow, from 2016, was shortlisted for several literary and biographical awards. Her most recent publication, Rose: The extraordinary voyage of Rose de Freycinet, the stowaway who sailed around the world for love, appeared in March 2022.
Rick Morton is the author of three non-fiction books. His debut memoir, One Hundred Years of Dirt (MUP, 2018) became a national bestseller and was shortlisted for the National Biography Award 2019, highly commended in the 2019 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards and longlisted for the 2018 Walkley Book of the Year, both Biography Book of the Year and the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year in the 2019 ABIA Awards. He is also the author of On Money (Hachette, 2020) and his latest, My Year of Living Vulnerably (4th Estate, 2021).
Rick is an award-winning journalist and is senior reporter at The Saturday Paper where he covers social policy, national affairs and science.
Mandy Sayer won the Vogel Award with her first novel, Mood Indigo. Since then she has published six works of fiction, six works of non-fiction, and two literary anthologies.
Her other awards include the National Biography Award, and Audio Book of the Year, (Dreamtime Alice: A Memoir); the South Australian Premier's Award for Non-Fiction and the AGE Book of the Year for Non-Fiction (Velocity: A Memoir) and the Western Australian Premier's Award for Non-fiction (shortlisted, The Poet's Wife: A Memoir).
About the Award
Since 1996, the National Biography Award has celebrated excellence in biography, autobiography and memoir writing. With a prize pool of $42,000, it is the nation’s richest prize for Australian biographical writing and memoir:
• $25,000 for the winner
• $2,000 for each of the six shortlisted authors
• $5,000 Michael Crouch Award for a first published biography, autobiography or memoir by an Australian writer
In 2023, the award is supported by the State Library of NSW Foundation and the Holman Family and has been a fixture on Australia’s literary calendar thanks to the generosity of Dr Geoffrey Cains, Rob Thomas AO and the late Michael Crouch AC, and the Nelson Meers Foundation.