I’ve been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, one of the largest book prizes for authors in Australia; the ceremony is on 10 December, and I don’t want to go. You only need to attend one award ceremony to know why they’re best avoided. First, there is the ugly tension in the room, swirling around a cadre of utterly oblivious rich people for whom this is simply a party at which to display their level of sophistication. Then there is the fantasy mantra invariably doled out, by video montage of previous winners, or sometimes in person, that everyone there is a winner, there are no losers.
It’s the kind of line you might expect in a kindergarten classroom, not performed with sincerity to a room of damaged adults who know they have to smile, swallow the rising acid in their throats, and agree. A small selection of them will walk away from this night with a hefty sum of money, and the majority will walk away with nothing. We play out, at the micro level, what is true at the macro, which is the capitalistic drive for the few to succeed over the many. This is true for the premiers’ and state book prizes, I should clarify, as the three largest prizes—the Stella Prize, the PMLA and the Miles Franklin—each award their shortlisted writers $5000.
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