First biography of one of Australia’s finest poets, wins nation’s richest biography prize

The State Library of NSW has announced Ann-Marie Priest’s “perceptive” and “creative” biography of the elusive Gwen Harwood, one of Australia’s finest poets, as the winner of 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”, “perceptive understanding of an elusive subject” and “creative approach.”

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 shortlisted works, selected from 94 entries, each receive $2,000:

  • Unknown: A Refugee’s Story by Akuch Kuol Anyieth (Text Publishing)
  • The Ghost Tattoo: Discovering the hidden truth of my father’s Holocaust by Tony Bernard (Allen & Unwin)
  • How to End a Story: Diaries 1995–1998 by Helen Garner (Text Publishing)
  • Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper (Scribner Australia, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Australia)

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.

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