National Biography (?) Awards

I notice that the longlist for the National Biography Awards has been announced.

  • Robyn Arianrhod Seduced by Logic, University of QLD Press
  • Tim Bonyhady Good Living Street: The Fortunes of My Viennese Family, Allen & Unwin
  • Alexander Brown Michael Kirby: Paradoxes & Principles, The Federation Press
  • Pamela Burton From Moree to Mabo: The Mary Gaudron Story, UWA Publishing
  • Sophie Cunningham Melbourne, NewSouth Publishing
  • Delia Falconer Sydney, NewSouth Publishing
  • John Howard Lazarus Rising, Harper Collins
  • Paul Kelly How to Make Gravy, Penguin
  • Mark McKenna An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark, Melbourne University Publishing
  • Martin Thomas The Many Worlds of R.H. Mathews: In Search of an Australian Anthropologist, Allen & Unwin
  • David Walker Not Dark Yet, Giramondo Publishing
  • Patrick Wilcken, Claude Levi-Strauss, Bloomsbury

I’m interested by the inclusion of the Sydney and Melbourne books.  There has been a trend over recent years of writing ‘biographies’ of inanimate objects (think Mark Kurlanky’s Cod and Salt) and locations (think Ackroyd’s London: A Biography).

I see that the guidelines for the award specify that the work be “classified as either biography, autobiography or memoir; be written in book form and consist of a minimum length of 50,000 words”.  I haven’t read either the Melbourne or the Sydney book, but I do know that both have a heavy emphasis on memoir, as well as a more factual approach to the two cities.

Still- an interesting inclusion for a biography award.

2 responses to “National Biography (?) Awards

  1. Nothing to do with gender balance, of course…

  2. There was a discussion of whether Memoirs/Autobiography should be included in a Biography award a year or so ago, on ABC Books and Writing. I’ve just tried to find it, but now the program has been re-jigged, I can’t track it down. I think it’s a great shame they are conflated – and I agree, adding in Melbourne and Sydney is absurd. It reminds me of the way the Archibald Prize is full of self-portraits. There are different skills involved, and I find all this self-referential writing (and painting) rather tiresome.
    I suspect that the fashion for describing the stories of non-human subjects as ‘biography’ comes from the general antagonism towards narrative history. A narrative history of London sounds old-fashioned, so jazz it up by calling it biography. (Not so sure about Cod!)

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