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The Meanjin Tournament of Books

Zora Sanders August 22

In the last two weeks or so I’ve had several conversations like this:

Me: “So, I’m organising this brilliant event where we take Australian canonical novels written by women and pit them off against each other in a bloody fight to the literary death… it’s going to be great!”

Other person: “Oh cool. So Australian women… canon… huh. So, like, who exactly?”

Me: “Oh you know, the usual.”

Other Person: “Oh yeah, course, right. Obviously”


Me: “You can’t think of any can you.”

Other person: “Yes I can, I totally can! Just… give me a minute… ”

And it goes on like that. Then eventually they’ll tentatively suggest: “Helen Garner, maybe? She’s Australian right?”

One person suggested Jodi Picoult as a possible Australian canonical author.

Maybe it’s just my friends (Jodi Picoult? I mean really?) but if you went out and started asking people, I suspect this reaction would be pretty common. Suffice to say, I think we might have a bit of a problem appreciating our own authors, and particularly our women authors.

If you follow Meanjin on Twitter you will have already heard about the Meanjin Tournament of Books, but you may, understandably, still be wondering what the hell it is.

The Tournament is a literary prize… kind of. Finding a winner is less important in the Meanjin Tournament of Books than the arguing and debating of the competition. It’s about reading books you’ve always meant to read but never quite got around to, and about re-reading dog-eared favourites.

It is based, with their blessing, on The Morning News Tournament of Books, held in March each year, which has become the highlight of my, and many people’s, literary calendars. I strongly suggest checking out their Tournament and their excellent site.

The way is works is this: 16 books are chosen (more on that in a moment) and then divided into pairs. A judge is given a pair, reads them both, writes up their decision process and announces which of the pair they deem the better book. That book then progresses into the next match to go up against a winner from a previous round. It’s a sporting tournament for people who don’t like sport.

This year, in light of the discussion around women’s writing and literary prizes, we’ve selected a short list of novels exclusively by Australian women. The list has been chosen by us, and is incomplete, capricious and arbitrary. That’s ok. There’s no way you could do Australian women authors justice in 16 books. But if you want to have your say, you will have the chance, because we have actually chosen only 15 books so far, and will be asking the public to vote for the 16th contender.

If you want to vote, you need to attend the launch night on the 15th of September at the Wheeler Centre, which you should do anyway because it’s going to be brilliant. We’ll have a brief panel-style conversation about literary prizes and what exactly they’re good for (if anything) and then we’ll give the audience the chance to vote for a 16th ‘People’s Choice’ contender, and then we’ll announce the complete shortlist.

On the panel we have: Anna Krien, Mandy Brett, Anson Cameron and First Dog on the Moon (who are all judges in the competition) and chairing the night will be Louise Adler. After the launch, the competition will move online. A new match will be posted twice a week culminating in the final round where all the judges will vote on the final pair of books.

Who will compete? Who will win? Who will collapse under the weight of all the anticipation and excitement? All that remains to be seen.

The last thing to note is that the Tournament will all take place on our new website, which if I do say so myself, is going to be fairly excellent.

Get your tickets to the launch night HERE and get your over-sized novelty foam hands out of the cupboard. It’s going to get messy.



by Kay
15 Sep 11 at 22:24

Dear organizers,

I would like to thank you for including a misogynist in your panel at tonight’s Tournament launch. It was not at all dispiriting to hear him fumble his way through the complexities of the long list of reasons why we need to redress the appalling imbalance in the recognition awarded to Australian women authors. Very much the opposite: said panelist was a beacon of diligent boorishness; it’s very encouraging to discover that, if this insipidity is what we’re up against, we might as well call it in our favour now.

Mandy Brett, First Dog and the incredible Louise Adler: all charming, engaging, lucid and provocative – as if they could ever be otherwise.



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