Tag Archives: #Awards

Exploring the Pulitzer Prize Winners of 2020

While staying safe at home we are continuing our journey into the world of award winning books with a look at some of the Pulitzer Prize winners that were announced in April. Last week we took a look at the Miles Franklin Literary Shortlist for 2020, which you can read here

The Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and musical composition in the United States. It was established in 1917 by provisions in the will of Joseph Pulitzer. 

There are a number of categories, you can see them all here, so we have chosen our top 6 books from the genres of fiction, drama, history, biography and general non-fiction. The winners all share stories, some true, others fictional, but all important and worth reading.

Pop the jug on for a cuppa and settle in…

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – Winner of Fiction

Elwood Curtis has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart: he is as good as anyone. Abandoned by his parents, brought up by his loving, strict and clearsighted grandmother, Elwood is about to enrol in the local black college. But given the time and the place, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy his future, and so Elwood arrives at The Nickel Academy, which claims to provide ‘physical, intellectual and moral training’ which will equip its inmates to become ‘honourable and honest men’. In reality, the Nickel Academy is a chamber of horrors, where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is rife, where corrupt officials and tradesmen do a brisk trade in supplies intended for the school, and where any boy who resists is likely to disappear ‘out back’. Stunned to find himself in this vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King’s ringing assertion, ‘Throw us in jail, and we will still love you.’ But Elwood’s fellow inmate and new friend Turner thinks Elwood is naive and worse; the world is crooked, and the only way to survive is to emulate the cruelty and cynicism of their oppressors. The tension between Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision which will have decades-long repercussions. Based on the history of a real reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped and destroyed the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating and driven narrative. 

Michael R. Jackson, Author.
Cover art of A Strange Loop is yet to be released.

A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson – Winner of Drama

A Strange Loop has been performed as a musical however it is being published in book form in September this year. You can pre order a copy by clicking through the link above.

A Strange Loop is a metafictional musical that tracks the creative process of an artist transforming issues of identity, race, and sexuality that once pushed him to the margins of the cultural mainstream into a meditation on universal human fears and insecurities. Usher is a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical: a piece about a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical. Michael R. Jackson’s blistering, momentous new musical follows a young artist at war with a host of demons, not least of which, the punishing thoughts in his own head, in an attempt to capture and understand his own strange loop.

Sweet Taste of Liberty by W Caleb McDaniel – Winner of History 

Born into slavery, Henrietta Wood was taken to Cincinnati and legally freed in1848. In 1853, a Kentucky deputy sheriff named Zebulon Ward colluded with Wood’s employer, abducted her, and sold her back into bondage. She remained enslaved throughout the Civil War, giving birth to a son in Mississippi and never forgetting who had put her in this position. 

By 1869, Wood had obtained her freedom for a second time and returned to Cincinnati, where she sued Ward for damages in 1870. Astonishingly, after eight years of litigation, Wood won her case: in 1878, a Federal jury awarded her $2,500. The decision stuck on appeal. More important than the amount, though the largest ever awarded by an American court in restitution for slavery, was the fact that any money was awarded at all. By the time the case was decided, Ward had become a wealthy businessman and a pioneer of convict leasing in the South. Wood’s son later became a prominent Chicago lawyer, and she went on to live until 1912. 

McDaniel’s book is an epic tale of a black woman who survived slavery twice and who achieved more than merely a moral victory over one of her oppressors. Above all, Sweet Taste of Liberty is a portrait of an extraordinary individual as well as a searing reminder of the lessons of her story, which establish beyond question the connections between slavery and the prison system that rose in its place.

Sontag by Benjamin Moser – Winner of Biography 

Susan Sontag was a great literary star. Her brilliant, serious mind combined with her striking image, her rigorous intellectualism and her groundbreaking inquiries into what was then seen as ‘low culture’ – celebrity, photographs, camp – propelled her into her own unique, inimitable category and made her famous the world over, emblematic of twentieth-century New York literary glamour. 

Today we need her ideas more than ever. Her writing on art and politics, feminism and homosexuality, celebrity and style, medicine and drugs, radicalism, Fascism, Freudianism, Communism and Americanism, forms an indispensable guide to our modern world. Sontag was present at many of the most crucial events of the twentieth century: when the Cuban Revolution began, and when the Berlin Wall came down, in Vietnam under American bombardment, in wartime Israel and in besieged Sarajevo. Sontag tells these stories and examines her work, as well as exploring the woman behind Sontag’s formidable public face: the broken relationships, the struggles with her sexuality, her agonising construction of herself and her public myth. 

Sontag is the first biography based on exclusive access to her restricted personal archives and on hundreds of interviews conducted with many people around the world who spoke freely for the first time about Susan Sontag, including Annie Leibovitz. It is a definitive portrait of an endlessly complex, dazzling woman; one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers, who lived one of its most fascinating lives.

The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin – Winner of General Non-Fiction

Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolising a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States’ belief in itself as an exceptional nation; democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America has a new symbol: the border wall. 

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history from the American Revolution to the War of 1898, the New Deal to the election of 2016. For centuries, he shows, America’s constant expansion, fighting wars and opening markets, served as a “gate of escape,” helping to deflect domestic political and economic conflicts outward. But this deflection meant that the country’s problems, from racism to inequality, were never confronted directly. And now, the combined catastrophe of the 2008 financial meltdown and our un-winnable wars in the Middle East have slammed this gate shut, bringing political passions that had long been directed elsewhere back home.

It is this new reality, Grandin says, that explains the rise of reactionary populism and racist nationalism, the extreme anger and polarisation that catapulted Trump to the presidency. The border wall may or may not be built, but it will survive as a rallying point, an allegorical tombstone marking the end of American exceptionalism.

The Undying by Anne Boyer – Winner of General Non-Fiction

A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living pay-check to pay-check who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness. 

A twenty first century Illness as Metaphor, as well as a harrowing memoir of survival, The Undying explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain ”dolorists,” the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of ”pink ribbon culture” while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others.

A genre-bending memoir in the tradition of The Argonauts, The Undying will break your heart, make you angry, and show you contemporary America as a thing both desperately ill and occasionally, perversely glorious. 

Enjoy!

Looking at the Miles Franklin Literary Shortlist for 2020

With a new wave of restrictions in place to keep us all safe, it looks like we have a little more reading time on our hands so we have decided to dive into the world of literary awards and explore books we may have missed off our reading list. 

This week we are diving into the Miles Franklin Literary Shortlist for 2020 and wow, what a great list it is!

Just for a bit of context, the Miles Franklin Literary Award was established by author and feminist Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, who is best known for her first novel My Brilliant Career. The Miles Franklin Awards were first presented in 1957, where the Award celebrates novels of the highest literary merit that tell stories about Australian life.

Let’s take a closer look…

The White Girl by Tony Birch

Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. Raising her granddaughter Sissy on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing Aboriginal children from their communities. When the menacing Sergeant Lowe arrives in town, determined to fully enforce the law, any freedom that Odette and Sissy enjoy comes under grave threat. Odette must make an impossible choice to protect her family. 

In The White Girl, Tony Birch has created memorable characters whose capacity for love and courage are a timely reminder of the endurance of the human spirit. 

Islands by Peggy Frew

This is a spellbinding novel with a riveting and brilliant portrait of a family in crisis by the breathtakingly talented author of House of Sticks and Hope Farm.

There was a house on a hill in the city and it was full of us, our family, but then it began to empty. We fell out. We made a mess. We draped ourselves in blame and disappointment and lurched around, bumping into each other. Some of us wailed and shouted; some of us barely made a sound. None of us was listening, or paying attention. And in the middle of it all you, very quietly, were gone.

Helen and John are too preoccupied with making a mess of their marriage to notice the quiet ways in which their daughters are suffering. Junie grows up brittle and defensive, Anna difficult and rebellious.

When fifteen year old Anna fails to come home one night, her mother’s not too worried; Anna’s taken off before but always returned. Helen waits three days to report her disappearance.

But this time Anna doesn’t come back …

No One by John Hughes

In the ghost hours of a Monday morning a man feels a dull thud against the side of his car near the entrance to Redfern Station. He doesn’t stop immediately. By the time he returns to the scene, the road is empty, but there is a dent in the car, high up on the passenger door, and what looks like blood. Only a man could have made such a dent, he thinks. For some reason he looks up, though he knows no one is there. Has he hit someone, and if so, where is the victim? So begins a story that takes us to the heart of contemporary Australia’s festering relationship to its indigenous past. A story about guilt for acts which precede us, crimes we are not sure we have committed, crimes gone on so long they now seem criminal-less. Part crime novel, part road movie, part love story, No One takes its protagonist to the very heart of a nation where non-existence is the true existence, where crimes cannot be resolved and guilt cannot be redeemed, and no one knows what to do with ghosts that are real.

The Returns by Philip Salom

The Returns is a story about the eccentricities, failings and small triumphs that humans are capable of, a novel that pokes fun at literary and artistic pretensions, while celebrating the expansiveness of art, kindness and friendship. 

Elizabeth posts a ‘room for rent’ notice in Trevor’s bookshop and is caught off-guard when Trevor answers the ad himself. She expected a young student not a middle-aged bookseller whose marriage has fallen apart. But Trevor is attracted to Elizabeth’s house because of the empty shed in her backyard, the perfect space for him to revive the artistic career he abandoned years earlier. The face-blind, EH Holden-driving Elizabeth is a solitary and feisty book editor, and she accepts him, on probation…

In this poignant yet upbeat novel the past keeps returning in the most unexpected ways. Elizabeth is at the beck and call of her ageing mother, and the associated memories of her childhood in a Rajneesh community. Trevor’s Polish father disappeared when Trevor was fifteen, and his mother died not knowing whether he was dead or alive. The authorities have declared him dead, but is he?

Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany

Spare, poetic and intensely visual, Exploded View is the powerful new novel from the author of Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living and Mateship with Birds. Carry Tiffany is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers and winner of the inaugural Stella Prize. 

Must a girl always be a part?

How can she become a whole?

In the late 1970s, in the forgotten outer suburbs, a girl has her hands in the engine of a Holden. A sinister new man has joined the family. He works as a mechanic and operates an unlicensed repair shop at the back of their block.

The family is under threat. The girl reads the Holden workshop manual for guidance. She resists the man with silence, then with sabotage. She fights him at the place where she believes his heart lives; in the engine of the car.

The Yield by Tara June Winch

The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha. Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind. August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land, a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river. Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.

Enjoy!

Book Week Picks – Early Childhood Book of the Year

Book Week is fast approaching – as advertisements spruiking dress-ups remind us. Book Week also means the CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Book of the Year Awards, the most prestigious awards in Australian children’s publishing. This year’s winners will be announced on Friday 21st August, the day before Book Week, a week long celebration of children’s books, literacy and publishing, from August 22-28.

This year, CBCA celebrates its 70th anniversary with the theme “Books light up our World”. Here’s a run down of the different award categories and some titles to watch out for.

Book of the Year (Early Childhood)

The Early Childhood category was first awarded in 2001, to differentiate these works from ones judged under the general Picture Book of the Year category, that may contain more mature, challenging subject matter. The need for two separate awards in picture storybooks reflect a growth and diversification of this format away from the idea that “picture books are only for young children”. In fact, a picture is still worth a thousand words, and the combination of text and graphics offers a multi-layered, powerful approach to storytelling.

This year’s shortlist is dominated by established authors and illustrators, many of whom are past winners.

To further your reading experience, many of these titles come with teaching notes available from the publisher’s websites.

A House of her Own by Jenny Hughes and Jonathan Bentley
Audrey is bigger than she was yesterday, so now she needs a bigger house – a house of her own. Luckily, Dad is there to help her build a wonderful house at the top of a tree, with a bathtub for snorkelling, a blue bed for hiding secrets under – everything that a girl could want. However, when it’s time to turn in, Audrey is not so sure that being big is such a good idea afterall…

Jenny Hughes and Jonathan Bentley have created a delightful heroine and an endearing story. The story, told almost entirely through dialogue, builds a vivid picture of a loving father-daughter relationship (with a single-parent subtext), and captures the essence of an almost-big girl who wants independence but who also longs for security.

 

Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King

Stephen Michael King is a prolific and versatile author/illustrator who has three works shortlisted for this year’s CBCA awards – two in the Early Childhood category, and The Duck and the Darklings competing for the Picture Book of the Year. In Scary Night, he illustrates the story of first-time author Lesley Gibbes.

Once upon a scary night, a hare, a cat and a pig set out on a journey. They must keep going, even though there are lots of dangers lurking! The story unfolds into a happy surprise as the friends finally reach their destination. The use of repetition and sound effects in the text ramps up the pace and fills it with tension; it is perfect for a dramatic read-aloud. The cute-but-spooky illustrations – I especially love the wide-eyed apprehension in the friends’ faces – will bring delicious shivers to the audience.

Go to Sleep, Jessie! by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood are both multiple award-winners with formidable track-records at the CBCA awards. This year, two of their collaborations – Go to Sleep, Jessie! and The Cleo Stories – are shortlisted for the Early Childhood and the Younger Readers awards, respectively. Moreover, Freya Blackwood has also been shortlisted for the Picture Book of the Year Award, as illustrator for My Two Blankets.

Baby Jessie screams every night at bedtime. Mum, Dad and Jessie’s big sister try all sorts of tricks to help Jessie sleep but the peace and quiet never lasts. The big sister (narrator) grows increasingly frustrated and looks set to snap… fortunately an endearing twist gives the story a gentle, happy ending.

Go to Sleep, Jessie! is a charming, tender story reminiscent of the award-winning The Runaway Hug, that will resonate with many parents (and older siblings!). Once again Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood show their great skill in illuminating the drama of everyday life. The use of some comic strip-style layouts add visual flow to the illustrations that help to propel the action.

Other shortlisted titles are:

Snail and Turtle are Friends by Stephen Michael King

A very simple, gentle and cute story about Snail and Turtle, friends who love to spend time together even though they are different. The humour and cheerfulness is guaranteed to bring a smile to everyone’s face. This is the second of three works by Stephen Michael King in this year’s awards.

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey

Pig the Pug is greedy and selfish in every way. When Pig refuses to share his toys, it starts a chain of events that leads to a nasty end for Pig! The rollicking rhymes and Aaron Blabey’s distinctive drawings will have children following the story with gleeful giggles. A sequel, Pig the Fibber, is just released and already a bestseller.

Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester

Noni the Pony is friendly and funny. In this new adventure, Noni and her farmyard friends have lots of adventures on a fun day at the beach. It has the same musical rhymes and adorable illustrations of its predecessor and is a joyful story for even the youngest children.