I’ve been very much enjoying catching up on the podcasts from the 2015 Adelaide Writers Week. What a terrific site!
The 2015 Hazel Rowley Memorial Lecture was delivered by David Marr. Unlike Rowley, who wrote from historical sources after her subjects had died, Marr comes to writing biography through journalism, particularly through the genre of the long form political profile of 5000-10,000 words- a length rarely encouraged in our sound-bite, tablet-friendly, swipe-driven media landscape.
Marr particularly embraces The Quarterly Essay format, which at 30,000 words, is a form that provides scope for a slim biography of subjects who are still alive, still dangerous and where there is still time to warn. I’ll certainly be dusting off his Quarterly Essay on Tony Abbott after recent events, and his latest one on Bill Shorten landed in my letterbox this week.
Marr recounted being tackled by a psychiatrist on Q&A who derided his qualification to make assessments of character, claiming it as a skill that psychiatrists took years of training to master. However, as Marr pointed out, biographers are in the “business” of character too. In the maelstrom of politics, character, he argues, is fixed. In both political and literary biography, the approach is the same: to discover the character, paint the world, follow the life and rate the work.
The winner of the 2015 Hazel Rowley fellowship was announced: Caroline Baum. She will write on Lucy Dreyfus, the wife of Alfred Dreyfus. She delivered what sounds to have been an unexpectedly emotional acceptance speech which, like Marr’s presentation, honoured Rowley as a biographer in a fitting tribute.