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Member only guide to the Australian book industry.
Toni Jordan and Shankari Chandran shared a rousing keynote address to an audience of authors, illustrators, publishers and industry professionals on Tuesday 14 November at the State Library of Victoria, speaking about Celebrating Australian Authors and what it means to be an author in Australia today.
The event commenced with a moving poetry reading by Claire G. Coleman of I Am the Road, before Shankari Chandran, winner of the 2023 Miles Franklin Literary Award for her novel Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens, began the address. Chandran spoke about the importance of representation, saying, “The mantle of Australian author or writer, is something that until relatively recently, has eluded many Australian writers of colour. We haven’t seen ourselves in that way because we haven’t been seen in that way.”
“Writers of colour are more present now in the Australian literary landscape than they’veever been; and it’s about time….This is cause for great celebration – the more dynamic and expanding definition of the Australian author; the space that is continually being carved out for many definitions, many authors, and the growing recognition that there are many Australian stories from many different kinds of Australian authors that deserve to be told; and finally, are being told. We should celebrate because this space has been hard-won.”
Chandran also spoke about the, at times terrible, responsibility of the author to the truth; “In an Australia that doesn’t always tell the truth to each other or itself, the Australian author, is an amanuensis and advocate of the truth. We are the builders of fictional worldsbased on what we imagine and most importantly, what we see. Every word we writecreates space for more Australian authors and more truth. This act of truth-telling is an act of resistance against the falsehoods that undermine our country and our community. It is an act of celebration of the goodness we hold, the struggles we overcome, the failings we acknowledge and remedy, and the greatness we are capable of.”
Toni Jordan continued this celebratory note to speak about the essential optimism of authors; “Afterall, finishing your first manuscript is an almost impossible task. Firstly, it takes countless hours. The one thing that people consistently ask, when they find out that you’re a writer is this: how do you find the time. It’s as though they think the time is there, if only you look. It’s in the pocket of the coat you wore last week, or it’s slipped down between the cushions of the couch. But as we all know, you do not find the time. You must carve it out with your bloodied fingernails from work, and leisure, and sleep, and family, and friends in the face of, yes, sometimes support, but also sometimes resignation or even hostility. And you must teach yourself how to write your first book at the same time as actually doing it.”
“If you sat down and analysed the odds of success with any kind of realism, you would never begin. So we are not only optimists. We are pathological optimists.”
Charting the sixty years since the inception of the ASA, Jordan spoke about how much had changed for authors in Australia, from the establishment of PLR/ELR, and the inauguration of literary prizes like the Miles Franklin and the Stella Prize, to the freedom to choose to set a book in Australia, or with a female protagonist. Ultimately, while there may be challenges on the horizon, Jordan highlighted how much there is to celebrate, saying, “We are very good at the work we do. We are very good at helping each other. There are many obstacles in our path, some we can’t even see yet. But the number one thing that we need to celebrate is this: that we’re exactly the right people for thejob.”
On the evening we were also delighted to officially present Helen Garner with the 2023 ASA Medal. Garner was awarded the Medal for her outstanding contribution to Australian culture as both a creator and an advocate.
In her acceptance speech, Garner said, “I’m so happy, I can’t tell you. I want to thank the ASA for all their work over the years. They know what we’re up against as writers and they work on it.”
Australian Copyright Council Chair, Kate Haddock also presented the 2023 Gus O’Donnell Prize to winner, Cormac Mercer. Gus O’Donnell was a key figure in the history of the ASA, having served as Chair – and a number of other roles – from 1966-1985. He was prominent in the fight for PLR, was the driving force behind the establishment of Copyright Agency alongside Frank Moorhouse, and was founder of the Australian Copyright Council. Our warmest congratulations to both Helen Garner and Cormac Mercer.