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Josephine Ulrick

Chris Flynn May 21

Griffith University in Queensland manages one of the richest short story prizes in the world, and yet it seems to pass under the radar of many writers. To their credit, GU don’t buy into the fanfare of publicity that surrounds many literary prizes, which perhaps allows lesser known luminaries to be in with a shout of taking home the moolah, which is significant.

The Josephine Ulrick Literature and Poetry prizes offer an eye-popping $20,000 to the winner in each category. Now in its tenth year, this is the first time the twenty grand prize pool has been awarded to one unique winner for the best short story and the best poem. In previous years there have been four prize slots, with the winners collecting $10,000, second place $5000 and two commended stories or poems receiving $2,500 each. Twenty thousand dollars is a remarkable amount of dosh to hand over for a short story or poem, more than some well-established literary prizes give out for novels and it is thus a wonder the prize is not talked about more.

Former winners of the short story prize include a pre-fame Chris Womersley and Catherine Harris, who have both gone on to have their books The Low Road, Bereft and Like Being a Wife shortlisted for major awards. The latter two books were up for The Age Book of the Year in 2011, though had they won they would have received the same amount of cash as they did when taking out the Josephine Ulrick.

This year’s short story winner is Matthew Lamb, and whilst twenty thousand bucks would come in handy for anyone, it is hard not to be pleased that it winds up in Lamb’s pocket. He is the editor of the Review of Australian Fiction, a new fortnightly digital short story venture that pairs up one established Australian author (who must have written three books or more) with one ‘emerging’ Australian author (less than three books). The more experienced writer picks the lesser known one in each case. For $2.99 readers get two long short stories to read on their digital device. Given all the talk I’ve heard about short fiction being perfectly suited to reading on Kindles, Kobos, iPads and other smartphones, it’s gratifying to see someone actually getting off their backside to do something about it. Half of the three bucks goes to the writers involved and the other half to promoting the magazine, so it is doubtful Lamb himself will have made anything at all. A deserving win then, for an entrepreneurial editor who has already published new stories from Christos Tsiolkas, Kalinda Ashton, Georgia Blain, James Bradley, Bruce Pascoe, Marie Munkara, Linda Jaivin, Susan Johnson and many more—a fiction honour roll any magazine would be proud of.

The winner of the poetry prize this year is also worth noting, as it’s the same writer who won it last year—Maria Zajkowski. She has been working on a manuscript entitled ‘The Ascendant’ for some time now, and it must be extraordinary indeed for suites of poems from the piece have claimed victory two years running, netting the Melbourne-based writer a cool thirty thousand dollars in total. That’s more than most poets earn in a lifetime.

For more information on the Josephine Ulrick Prizes, which are usually open for submissions around December, check the Griffith University website.



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