Meet the winners of the National Biography Award 2023

Event recorded on 19 August 2023

My Tongue Is My Own: A Life of Gwen Harwood, Ann-Marie Priest’s biography one of Australia’s finest poets, won the National Biography Award 2023. The Michael Crouch Award for a Debut Work was awarded to Tom Patterson for Missing, a gripping story about a brilliant misfit and former law student who lives for decades in the wilderness of northern New South Wales.

Hear from the winners of the National Biography Award, in conversation with the 2022 winner for Leaping into Waterfalls: The Enigmatic Gillian Mears, Dr Bernadette Brennan, and one of judges, Rick Morton.

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. The overall winner receives $25,000. The $5,000 Michael Crouch AC Award is be presented to the best debut biography or memoir in honour of the late Library benefactor and former Award supporter.

The 2023 shortlist included the diaries of Helen Garner, Chloe Hooper’s memoir, a portrait of a poet and remarkable true stories by three debut writers. Join the winners of this year’s prize as they discuss their award-winning works shortly after the announcement.

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.

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.

Tom Patterson studied engineering and has worked in this field in Australia and Germany. He won a 2022 Walkley Award for his Australian Magazine article, Lost Soul which was a precursor to the publication of his first book, Missing. He currently lives in Sydney with his wife and two children.

Bernadette Brennan is a critic and researcher of contemporary Australian writing. She is the author of a number of publications, including a monograph on Brian Castro and two edited collections: Just Words?: Australian Authors Writing for Justice (UQP 2008), and Ethical Investigations: Essays on Australian Literature and Poetics (Vagabond 2008). In 2017 she published her award-winning literary biography A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work (Text). Her most recent book, Leaping Into Waterfalls: The Enigmatic Gillian Mears (A&U 2021), was shortlisted for the 2022 NSW Premier’s Douglas Stewart award and won the prestigious Magarey Medal for Biography, the National Biography Award and the Age Book of the Year (non-fiction). Bernadette is also one of five judges for the Miles Franklin Award.

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.