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Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright wins James Tait Black Prize for Fiction

Photo: Darren James

Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright has won the prestigious James Tait Black Prize for Fiction, worth £10,000 (A$18,958). One of the United Kingdom’s longest running literary awards (founded in 1919), the prize is presented annually by The University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures.

Previous winners of the prize include DH Lawrence, E.M. Forster, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, Christine Brooke-Rose, Margaret Drabble, Nadine Gordimer, John Berger, JM Coetzee, AS Byatt and Zadie Smith.

The fiction panel found Praiseworthy to be ‘a brilliant and experimental work of fiction that stretches the boundaries of the novel form in new and exciting ways. Engaged with matters of climate and justice, Praiseworthy’s innovativeness is matched only by its timeliness.’

Fiction judge Benjamin Bateman, a senior lecturer in English Literature the University of Edinburgh, called Praiseworthy ‘a kaleidoscopic and brilliantly conceived novel that interweaves matters of climate and Indigenous justice in prose that accomplishes the most difficult of feats – being funny and simultaneously ferociously engaged with some of the most pressing ethical and political questions of our contemporary moment’.

In her response to the award, Alexis Wright commented: ‘I am really pleased that the judges on the fiction panel have acknowledged the innovative nature of Praiseworthy, and appreciated the scope of my intentions with this work. I intended Praiseworthy to be a a big book in more ways than one. I hope its scale and scope is right for the times we live in.’

The book was chosen from a shortlist of four titles, with an academic judge working with a panel of researchers to critically assess the shortlisted works and decide on the winner. The prizes are also the only major British book awards judged by literature scholars and students. 

Said Bateman: ‘Alexis Wright’s Praiseworthy stood out to our student readers for pushing the novel form in new directions and for depicting, with impeccable nuance and humour, the moral complexity of trying to make a life under conditions of governmental dispossession and slow violence.’

The announcement comes a fortnight after Praiseworthy won the 2024 Stella Prize, and in the same week it was longlisted for the 2024 Miles Franklin Literary Award and the 2024 ALS Gold Medal.

The book was published in the United Kingdom last year by And Other Stories, and in the United States this year by New Directions. In Australia, it is available in both paperback and hardcover. It was described by the New York Times as ‘the most ambitious and accomplished Australian novel of this century.’

The collector’s set of Alexis Wright fiction. Order here.
The Australian edition of Praiseworthy (2023)
The UK edition of Praiseworthy (And Other Stories, 2023)

Grace Yee wins Ockhams NZ Book Award for poetry with Chinese Fish

Photo: ABC News – Danielle Bonica

Grace Yee has won the 2024 Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry for her verse novel and debut book, Chinese Fish. The prize is administered by the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, which were this year announced in May at a ceremony in Auckland.

Yee holds dual citizenship in Australia and New Zealand, with Chinese Fish distributed on both sides of the pond. Earlier this year, the book also won the 2024 Victorian Prize for Literature, Australia’s most generous writing prize worth $100,000.

‘I am thrilled that Chinese Fish has been acknowledged here, in the country where I grew up,’ wrote Yee in her acceptance speech. ‘It is, at its heart, a story about a family that travelled across the seas, arrived in Aotearoa, and had the audacity to call it home.’ The speech was delivered by Paula Morris on Yee’s behalf.

Read the judges’ comments on Chinese Fish below.

Grace Yee’s is a striking aesthetic – it blurs genres, it dances around the page, it crosses languages by fusing Cantonese-Taishanese and English, both official and unofficial. Her craft is remarkable. She moves between old newspaper cuttings, advertisements, letters, recipes, cultural theory, and dialogue. Creating a new archival poetics for the Chinese trans-Tasman diaspora, the sequence narrates a Hong Kong family’s assimilation into New Zealand life from the 1960s to the 1980s, interrogating ideas of citizenship and national identity. It displaces the reader, evoking the unsettledness of migration. In Chinese Fish, Yee cooks up a rich variety of poetic material into a book that is special and strange; this is poetry at its urgent and thrilling best.

Find a roundtable interview featuring all of the Ockhams Poetry finalists published earlier in the week here.

Artist note: Shireen Taweel on the cover of The Tribe (2024) by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

Shireen Taweel reflects on her artwork Astro Architecture. A detail of this work – made from engraved copper plate and aquatint prints – was used as the basis for the cover image of the new edition of The Tribe by Michael Mohammed Ahmad.

Astro Architecture sits within a future landscape. A speculative landscape of migration into Space, a movement of peoples and spiritualities working to decentre the colonial past, present and future of Space travel. Astro Architecture proposes architectural affirmations of the sacred for future Space migration and pilgrimage. A vision of sacred architecture to contain spiritual knowledge systems, and places for community gatherings of ritual and ceremony to build relationships of sustainability between the non-living and living landscapes of a future in Space.

Astro Architecture is informed by the astronomical and celestial navigation instruments and technologies of the Arab sciences and the impact on the movement of people for migration and pilgrimage, as well as the significance of the architectural representation of the sacred for this movement. The print series reflects upon existing celestial navigation instruments of the Arab Sciences as a source of shared cultural histories, memory, identity, colonised and decolonised collections of movement, which contributes to the potential decolonising of Space activity and visions of a multicultural, progressive, and equitable future in Space.

The application of the heritage engraving techniques used to embellish astronomical instruments, and the recording and mapping of astronomical knowledge has been employed by the artist to hand engrave the large copper plates for the prints. The three sacred architectural forms reference the astrolabe, quadrant and sextant, astronomical devices used to measure the distance between two objects and of immense spiritual virtue. The pierced patterns on the forms are inspired by the intricate embellishment of the astrolabe, an ancient astronomical instrument used in Islamic and European cultures as both a scientific and spiritual navigational tool and the most advanced pre-telescope technology.

— Shireen Taweel

Shireen Taweel Astro Architecture 2023 (detail). Engraved copper plate, aquatint, unique print
78 x 106cm. Image courtesy of the artist Shireen Taweel and STATION Australia. Photo: Ian Zainab Salem.
The Tribe by Michael Mohammed Ahmad
Shireen Taweel, Astro Architecture 2023. Engraved copper plate, aquatint prints. Triptych 78 x 106 cm each. Photo: Ian Zainab Salem.

Artist bio

Shireen Taweel’s practice reflects the diasporic landscape she inhabits as a Lebanese Australian, employing cross-cultural discourse around the construction of cultural heritage, knowledge, identity, and language. Through sensorially immersive installations that draw on architecture, Islamic science and ritual, Taweel brings to light histories and cultural practices that have been buried beneath the weight of social political power structures. Her most recent work rests speculative astral architecture upon a diverse foundation of past celestial technologies.

The development and research for her projects are often site-specific, working in collaboration with local communities, their architecture and their environment with a focus on experimentation in material and sound through site. Through the contemporary use of heritage coppersmith artisan techniques, including engraving and hand-piercing, Taweel’s works create a space for shared histories and fluid community identities.

Shireen Taweel. Photo: Nadia Refaei

Author note: Kate Fagan on Song in the Grass

Prize-winning singer, songwriter and poet Kate Fagan reflects on her new book Song in the Grass (1 June 2024)a sonically rich collection in which poetry becomes a way of sustaining love over distance, a collective music, and a compass for navigating in-common emergencies.

Song in the Grass feels to me like a record collection. It’s a handful of favourite albums, a box of lyrics, a soundtrack to living in the Blue Mountains while walking over ‘the long bridge of motherhood’, as the book might say. But it’s also an almanac of environmental care, and a love letter to poetry as an art that is most alive when shared in communities. With other players and listeners – just like music.

The shoots of this book germinated when I met Irish writer Dermot Healy. His ear was attuned precisely to the music of natural worlds, and to people’s ways of finding language in the sky and stones, or among the reeds in lakes. I couldn’t put down Healy’s A Fool’s Errand, a long meditation upon what can be illuminated by the enduring migrations of barnacle geese. It reveres birds – not as ciphers or metaphors for human experience – but as sentinels of non-human worlds, whose navigations happen in spaces and scales far beyond our ‘selves’. Talking with Healy was like hearing an ego dissolve in water, such was his profound ability to honour voices and lives other than his own, by singing in place and time. 

Living in the Blue Mountains on Dharug and Gundungurra Country, I am moved daily by ecological movements and displacements. Every bird carries a musical signal about the weather, about available food, about noisy developments and clearings, about other creatures. That plain reality holds immense power for me. Land and climate justice involve many kinds of reckoning. We are surrounded by art and stories that show us how to act upon these urgent calls, if we choose to listen.

I’ve been lucky in recent years to work with a splendid group of musicians and performers for whom I’ve written lyrics as kernels for compositions, collected in Song in the Grass as ‘Notes to a Bird’. I’d love readers also to hear the music those poems inspired, and by which they are shaped. Collaboration is a jacket I always want to wear; making work in company produces stronger art, which I’ve tried to acknowledge in ‘Letters to Writers’. It releases you from your own preoccupations and habits, and revitalises language and purpose. 

I’ve been asked often about my fascination with lists and archives. There is something undeniably tender about encountering the traces of people’s everyday lives in collections of salvaged detail. Good living is an antidote to bad history. Bodies are kinds of archives, full of astonishing traces of humour in response to absurdity, or love as resistance to brutality. Lists never pretend that everything can be known or accomplished; they are always unfinished, provisional. They are always referring to other things. It’s part of my creative method to store up material evidence that flocks in peripheries, with intense curiosity for what it might affirm about imagination and joy.

In reflecting upon Song in the Grass, I can’t help making new lists. The book indexes slow time, emergencies, rituals, hope, sonics, death, translation. If one poem expresses what resonates across the whole collection, it might be ‘Border House (Notes to a Bird)’ – here’s a remix:

— Kate Fagan, 6 May 2024

Kate Fagan. Photo: Sally Tsoutas

Alexis Wright wins the Stella Prize for the second time with Praiseworthy

Alexis Wright presents her acceptance speech for the 2024 Stella Prize at the State Library of Victoria.

Alexis Wright has won the Stella Prize for her epic work Praiseworthy, described by the judges as ‘a canon-crushing Australian novel for the ages’.

At the announcement ceremony on Thursday evening, Beejay Silcox, chair of Stella judges, said: ‘Praiseworthy is not only a great Australian novel – perhaps the great Australian novel – it is also a great Waanyi novel. And it is written in the wild hope that, one day, all Australian readers might understand just what that means.’

In winning the Stella for Praiseworthy, Alexis Wright has become the first author to win the award twice, having previously received it in 2018 for Tracker, her collective memoir of Aboriginal leader Tracker Tilmouth.

Praiseworthy has also won the Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, and is currently shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award and the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction. It is published internationally in the United Kingdom and North America. Read interviews with Wright in ABC Arts, the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, and many more media outlets.

Read the judges’ comments on Praiseworthy below.

Fierce and gloriously funny, Praiseworthy is a genre-defiant epic of climate catastrophe proportions. Part manifesto, part indictment, Alexis Wright’s real-life frustration at the indignities of the Anthropocene stalk the pages of this, her fourth novel.

That frustration is embodied by a methane-like haze over the once-tidy town of Praiseworthy. The haze catalyses the quest of protagonist Cause Man Steel. His search for a platinum donkey, muse for a donkey-transport business, is part of a farcical get-rich-quick scheme to capitalise on the new era of heat. Cause seeks deliverance for himself and his people to the blue-sky country of economic freedom.

Praiseworthy walks the same Country as companion novel, Carpentaria, published in 2006, and here, Wright demonstrates further mastery of form. Reflecting the landscape of the Queensland Gulf Country where the tale unfolds, Wright’s voice is operatic in intensity. Wright’s use of language and imagery is poetic and expansive, creating an immersive blak multiverse. Readers will be buoyed by Praiseworthy’s aesthetic and technical quality; and winded by the tempestuous pace of Wright’s political satire.

Praiseworthy belies its elegy-like form to stand firm in the author’s Waanyi worldview and remind us that this is not the end times for that or any Country. Instead it asks, which way my people? Which way humanity?

— Judges’ report, 2024 Stella Prize
Watch Alexis Wright’s 2024 Stella Prize acceptance speech.
The collector’s set of Alexis Wright fiction. Order here.

Interviews with Alexis Wright following her Stella Prize win:

Praiseworthy (paperback edition)
Praiseworthy (hardcover edition)
Tracker (2018 Stella Prize winner)

Jenny Grigg on designing the cover for Alexis Wright’s Praiseworthy

Jenny Grigg discusses her process in designing the hardcover edition of Alexis Wright’s latest award-winning novel, Praiseworthy. The design is currently shortlisted for the Australian Book Design Awards.

As the Praiseworthy manuscript was being resolved, I was wondering what handmade techniques I could use to convey the authenticity and qualities of Alexis’s writing. After lots of tests and discussions, while away on holiday and limited to the materials available in a suburban Spotlight, a series of smears made by pushing ink across the smooth surface of acetate showed potential. The tarriness of the printing ink helped me to inhabit the power in Alexis’s writing. I had to use strong hand movements to force the ink across the surface. My right hand cramped. Conceived as more than a front cover, while the ink smears were drying, I bent the prints to imagine how they would appear wrapped around the book’s volume; a process that helped the perception of the jacket as a landscape that wrapped a book.

‘All these butterflies floated and spun into a silent screeching of hot air in this atmospheric flooding…’

I was working on a suite of cover designs for three of Alexis’s novels at the time, and, typical of working abstractly, the ink smear selected for Praiseworthy originated as a rendering of a swan intended for the cover of The Swan Book. As Giramondo Publisher Ivor Indyk’s brief highlighted, many passages in Praiseworthy featured butterflies as if they were ‘force fields’, and an interpretation of this appeared when I flipped and rotated the swan image. The form dynamised the concept. A storm picks up on the front cover, pushes around the spine, and appears to tail out on the back cover. I like the monochrome. With no distractions from colour, the sense of space and texture created by the process suggests a mythological atmosphere. The addition of yellow on the cover of the paperback edition modifies the meaning of the original image a second time. The storm becomes butterflies, ‘floated and spun’.

The raw cover artwork in progress.
The final hardcover version, wrapping around the book’s spine.
The addition of yellow on the cover of the paperback edition.
The suite of covers for the new editions of Carpentaria and The Swan Book, and Alexis Wright’s new novel Praiseworthy, all published in 2023.
Jenny Grigg

Autumn Royal’s launch speech for Naag Mountain by Manisha Anjali

Autumn Royal, Manisha Anjali and Genevieve Fry at the launch of Naag Mountain. Photo: Stan Woodhouse

Naag Mountain by Manisha Anjali was launched in April 2024 at The Alderman in Brunswick East during a sold-out evening event. The event featured a speech by poet Autumn Royal in honour of releasing Manisha’s debut book into the world. The speech was followed by a haunting and transcendental vocal and harp performance by Genevieve Fry. Read a transcript of Royal’s speech below.

The following speech was delivered on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge and respect their Elders, both past and present. We extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals who may read this speech. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land. We also wish to express that from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.

I first physically met Manisha in a garden. It was 2019 and we were reading alongside each other at a house fundraiser for the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy. But I do not doubt our spirits already knew each other intimately as years earlier, Manisha’s stunning poetry gushed into my psyche, and I was enraptured and now – I am here.

At this point, it feels necessary to summon (or depend upon) the words of the brilliant Eunice Andrada when she expresses that Manisha’s ‘Naag Mountain is an exquisite work that resounds with the reminder of what can be reclaimed when a community moves towards their awakening: their dreams, their futures. This is a distinguished debut collection from a poet whose vision is urgent and consuming.’

‘Urgent and consuming’. I respectfully echo Andrada’s words as I attempt to form an articulation of Manisha’s Naag Mountain and the significance of its existence. Speaking about this book in front of you, dear audience, is a privilege and beyond this scripted reading, I promise to consider how I can ever return such a deep honour.

As Manisha explains in her author note to accompany this work of brilliance: ‘Naag Mountain is the recovery and aftermath of the girmit, the period between 1879 and 1916 when Indians [derogatorily termed ‘coolies’] were taken to Fiji for indentured labour on Australian-owned sugar cane plantations’. Manisha’s Naag Mountain potently and generously illuminates the realities of the cultural and cellular inheritance of this indentured labour through a collaboration of dreams, oceans, archival documents, songs, ancestral historiographies, and poetry.

Naag Mountain also reveals a complex and intertwined circuitous narrative spanning across times, oceans, and realms. Within Naag Mountain, there exists an imaginary film called ‘Paradise‘. As Manisha eloquently describes this film within the text:

In this film, the actors are allowed to walk away – to reject their scripted roles and embrace their continuous evolution of identities between human and non-human beings. The existence of the film, ‘Paradise’, allows for such action. The poetry surrounding this film, ‘Paradise’, also generates an action, but without containment. As Naag Mountain declares, nothing should ever be contained.

Paradise’ correspondingly brings awareness to the concept of ‘depiction’, and the deplorable truth that this film, this narrative of ‘Paradise’, should already be known and that these actors should have always had agency and dignity.

I quote another passage from Naag Mountain where such agency and dignity are allowed, encouraged, and guided by spirits across oceans in a moment where the actors:

Naag Mountain is an epic poem in which the concept of the ‘single and distinctive hero’ is not just overturned by Manisha’s captivating poetic voice and defiantly vivid expressions, but completely quashed. This is not done out of spite or in a cruel manner – but through a multitude of polyvocal voices, bodies, entities, spirits, animals, elements, and sensations that challenge the notion that there can only be one dominant account of history. As Manisha’s expressive voice guides me over the phone: ‘The Indo-Fijian psyche does not just inhabit the physical realm’.

Radical metamorphic bodily changes occur throughout Naag Mountain during violent scenes and traumatic events, but most significantly, these transformations also take place throughout moments of deep love and celebration. There is also the metamorphosis of yourself as a reader – something that is so very crucial and so very sacred. As Nancy Gray Diaz elucidates, metamorphosis ‘represents the conjunction of self and world, and it plays out the individual’s conflict with, or assumption into, the values of that world’.

Interconnected with metamorphosis is a meaningful and poignant theme in this book is the birth and rebirth as ‘Paper jackal fly out of my mouth, and / into the misty air, and into the monsoon’ (p. 8).

With such lines, both birth and rebirth are intricately woven and profoundly expanded upon throughout the entirety of Naag Mountain with keen attention and generous dedication.

In this work, in Naag Mountain, all matters expressed are actualities and are not merely metaphorical representations. Here, in Naag Mountain, ‘metaphor’ as a concept is considered too simplistic and detached for such a profound understanding of what is occurring. In Manisha’s own words: ‘through the process / of extraction, I see my responsibility. It is standing still at / the top of the mountain (p. 31). There is a view from the top of the mountain and Manisha is showing it to you, dear reader.

At this point in my scripted act, I have exceeded over 300 words. Three – the number ‘3’ – and the time of 3 a.m. is extremely poignant and forceful in the actuality of this work and the history it is based upon. This is the time when ‘the coolies’ were ordered to rise from their dreams and begin work. It is also known as ‘the suicide hour’, a bodily sacrifice often performed as an act of resistance against ‘the company’ that once ‘owned’ Manisha’s family. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

I will end/open with Manisha’s evocative and powerful description of ‘this company’:

Alexis Wright and Sanya Rushdi shortlisted for The Stella Prize

Two Giramondo authors are shortlisted for the 2024 Stella Prize: Alexis Wright for her epic novel Praiseworthy, and Sanya Rushdi for her autofictional work, Hospital. The announcement was made on 4 April on ABC Radio National.

Six books are shortlisted for the $60,000 prize for Australian women’s writing, which is awarded annually ‘to one outstanding book deemed to be original, excellent, and engaging’.

‘A canon-crushing Australian novel for the ages’, Wright’s Praiseworthy has won the Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, and is currently shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award and The James Tait Black Prize. Rushdi’s Hospital, translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha and described by the judges as ‘deeply experiential’, is the author’s debut book.

Judges’ comments, Praiseworthy:

Fierce and gloriously funny, Praiseworthy is a genre-defiant epic of climate catastrophe proportions. Part manifesto, part indictment, Alexis Wright’s real-life frustration at the indignities of the Anthropocene stalk the pages of this, her fourth novel.

That frustration is embodied by a methane-like haze over the once-tidy town of Praiseworthy. The haze catalyses the quest of protagonist Cause Man Steel. His search for a platinum donkey, muse for a donkey-transport business, is part of a farcical get-rich-quick scheme to capitalise on the new era of heat. Cause seeks deliverance for himself and his people to the blue-sky country of economic freedom.

Praiseworthy walks the same Country as companion novel, Carpentaria, published in 2006, and here, Wright demonstrates further mastery of form. Reflecting the landscape of the Queensland Gulf Country where the tale unfolds, Wright’s voice is operatic in intensity. Wright’s use of language and imagery is poetic and expansive, creating an immersive blak multiverse. Readers will be buoyed by Praiseworthy’s aesthetic and technical quality; and winded by the tempestuous pace of Wright’s political satire.

Praiseworthy belies its elegy-like form to stand firm in the author’s Waanyi worldview and remind us that this is not the end times for that or any Country. Instead it asks, which way my people? Which way humanity?

Judges’ comments, Hospital:

Hospital is an unflinching, insightful and delicately wrought work of autofiction that brings devastating lucidity to the often-opaque realm of mental health. Drawn from Rushdi’s own experience with psychosis, it is a novel that bucks the classic tropes and cliches, eschewing sensationalism and sentimentality in favour of an invitation to meaningful engagement and understanding. Through her spare, honest words, deftly translated from the Bengali by Arunava Singha, Rushdi’s ordeal becomes our own. We descend into psychosis with the narrator, acutely feel her disconnections and institutional indignities. We come to question notions of “illness” and “treatment”. There are no jump scares, just the ineluctable clarity that demands we remain in the moment with something we find deeply uncomfortable.

The winner of the 2024 Stella Prize will be announced on 2 May.

An excerpt from Manisha Anjali’s Naag Mountain

The following excerpt is from Naag Mountain, Manisha Anjali’s remarkable debut collection. Anjali is an Australian and New Zealand poet of Indo-Fijian background, the descendant of indentured labourers. Her book is an imagined recovery of the little-known cultural inheritance of a displaced and exploited people.

The film that emerges from the waves in our place of conception, Port Douglas, Far North Queensland, is misty and blue-green. The reel is entangled symbiotically with kelp, sea lettuce and jellyfish. The film stock is full of salt and coral. Images imprinted on plastic film are visible through fragments of algae, sand and micro-civilisations of the sea.

When the two moons are released from shadow, we unravel the living reel and project the propaganda onto the sky. When we hear the ringing of temple bells, we hear songs that have been backmasked. When we hear the singing of conch shells, we hear songs that have travelled generations to be heard.

We are actors in an obscure, banned film called Paradise. Paradise is comprised of footage of the girmit, the haunted ‘agreement’, the Indian indentured labour system which was established after slavery was abolished. We sign contracts we cannot read, then we wipe the bloods from our brows with our eight hands, then we plant our eight hands into the lungs of the South Pacific.

Opening scene. Sugar cane plantation on fire. Tea plantation on fire. Copra plantation on fire. Banana, banana. Copra, copra. Fire. Fire wails with choirs of widows and seabirds: girmit songs of longing, mourning cries and culling prayers.

A circle of flames in the ganna field. In the middle is a white horse named Pajero, eating yellow wildflowers. Next to Pajero is Pilgrim with two black braids bound with red ribbons, a gold nose ring, white blouse and white petticoat. Pilgrim has a white chicken in one hand, and a mirror in the other. In the mirror is the reflection of the blue sea.

Things we carried on the Leonidas, 1879: our ganja, our nose rings, our holy water from the mouths of our rivers.

Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright is shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award

Alexis Wright

Giramondo Publishing congratulates Alexis Wright, whose highly acclaimed novel Praiseworthy has been shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award. One of the richest literary prizes in the world, the international award is presented each year to a novel written or translated into English, and aims to promote excellence in world literature.

Praiseworthy is one of six shortlisted books chosen by an international panel of judges from the longlist of 70 books. Wright, a member of the Waanyi nation, is the first Australian to be shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award since Hannah Kent and Richard Flanagan in 2015. 

Praiseworthy has won the Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, and is currently longlisted for The Stella Prize and shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction. It was published last year in the United Kingdom by And Other Stories, and this year in the United States by New Directions. The New York Times has described Praiseworthy as ‘the most ambitious and accomplished Australian novel of this century’.

Read the Dublin Literary Award judges’ comments below.

Alexis Wright’s Praiseworthy is a wonder of twenty-first century fiction. This modernist more-than-an-allegory about a pernicious haze that settles over a northern Australia town yokes a painfully contemporary tale of political, social and climatic disaster to a narrative consciousness embodying 65 000 years of aboriginal survival. Intimate while epic, the family drama at its center reads like chamber music on a symphonic scale. Wright has authored a blisteringly funny book, replete with situations and speech that elicit wild laughter—a laughter through tears we may recognize from our readings of Beckett and Kafka. She has also written a beautiful one: time and again Praiseworthy delivers unforget- table images, from aerial rivers; of dancing butterflies to hordes of stinking donkeys. Startlingly original, fiercely political, uncompromising in every respect, Praiseworthy expands the possibility of the novel form.

The Dublin Literary Award is unique in that books are first nominated by libraries from cities around the world. Praiseworthy was nominated by the National Library of Australia.

The winner will be announced on May 23 at the International Literature Festival Dublin.

Celebrating David Malouf at 90

David Malouf. Photo: Sally McInerney (1970)

‘The most striking aspect of David Malouf’s life in letters is the multiplicity of forms it has taken, as if one should talk of his lives in letters rather than think of it as a single life,’ wrote Giramondo publisher Ivor Indyk in the Sydney Review of Books in honour of the author’s eightieth birthday in 2014. This March, Malouf turns ninety. We celebrate one of Australia’s best-loved writers and a long-time supporter of Giramondo, with a recorded interview, Malouf’s contributions to HEAT, and a poetic tribute from Nicholas Jose.

The photograph above captured David Malouf at the very beginning of his career, just ahead of the publication of his debut poetry collection. Sally McInerney, the photographer, said of that day: ‘David’s book of poems, Bicycle, was soon to appear, and the publishers had requested a suitable “author” photograph. So, in the summer of January 1970, we wandered rather shyly through the University of Sydney’s semi-deserted grounds, looking for places and light that would lend themselves to portraiture. We have been friends ever since.’

In conversation with Ivor Indyk

In a recording made in April 2021, Giramondo publisher Ivor Indyk spoke with David Malouf about his body of work as a poet and novelist, the time he spent away from Australia in Italy, his international reputation, and the imaginative power of his writing. Listen to their conversation below.

Giramondo Talks: David Malouf in conversation with Ivor Indyk

Ivor Indyk (left) and David Malouf (right).

David Malouf in HEAT

David Malouf has been an important contributor to HEAT, Australia’s international literary magazine, founded by Giramondo in 1996. We feature below five contributions by Malouf, recently digitised in the HEAT archive. The sixth piece is a poem by Nicholas Jose, published in the very first issue of HEAT in honour of Malouf’s sixtieth birthday.

Epimetheus, or The Spirit of Reflection

‘We have all heard of Prometheus, great rebel against the gods and bringer to earth of a commodity, fire, which we have depended on from earliest times for much of what makes us human: campfires, cooked meat, the forging of iron into ploughshares, horseshoes, swords. What is not so well known is that Prometheus had a brother, also a titan and demi-god, but as his name suggests quite opposite in nature and habit of thought.’

Buxtehude’s Daughter

‘What she found most insufferable was the camaraderie between them, which she could not help but feel was an alliance; that and the assumption, in their careless all-conquering manner, that the world was theirs by right, to be divided up just as they pleased. Well, not if she could help it!’

Mozart to da Ponte: Words and Music

‘Words act, they get things going, they are sociable. They form unions, found cities, make contracts in which responsibilities are established and dues paid, or they break them and start wars. A sentence is a theatre in which something happens, it is all agents and events. But music is just itself. It has no story to tell, no truth to utter, and it cannot lie because it proclaims nothing but its own perfect presence.’

Ulysses, or the Scent of the Fox

‘The Greek commanders, Nestor, Agamemnon and the rest, could do nothing but wait, unheroically, for the cloud to lift from their champion’s brow. Till it did, they dared not move.’

The South

‘On a soft, sunlit morning in March 1959, just a few days before my twenty-fifth birthday, I stood at the rails of an Italian liner, the Fairsky, and after a five-weeks sea-voyage that had taken me via Singapore, Colombo, Bombay, Aden and Port Said, saw the Bay of Naples open before me, and utterly familiar in the distance the dark slopes and scooped-out cone of Vesuvius – all just as I had always imaged it, like the breaking of a dream.’


By Nicholas Jose

‘Inside meantime, past sixty, you hold forth, tossing pasta and greens, searing the fish, uncorking wine, adjusting the lights, sentence by sentence giving shape and grace, enthusiasm, optimism, critique — all the while you are out there in the dark…‘

An excerpt from Jonathan Buckley’s Tell

The following excerpt is from the first pages of Jonathan Buckley’s Tellthe joint winner of the 2022 Novel Prize. It is Buckley’s twelfth novel.

First Session

I can talk for as long as you like, no problem. You’ll just have to tell me when to stop. How far back do you want to take it? Because Lily is what it’s about, in my opinion. And the mother is part of the story too. Father too. Goes without saying. But maybe better to pick them up later. Shall we start with the crash? Seems an obvious place.


Terrible thing is, Curtis would have been on his way home the next day. He’d been gone a week, going around Vietnam and Thailand, inspecting the factories. Cambodia was the last stop, and he’d done what he needed to do there, so he decided to go to Angkor Wat. That might have been the plan all along. I don’t really know. If you’ve flown halfway round the world you can’t come back without seeing it, can you? Even if you’ve only got time to see a small part of it. You need days to explore the whole place, apparently. So he flew from the capital to this other town, right by the temples. Can’t remember the name. And that’s where the crash happened. He hired a driver to take him out to some part of the site that was fifty miles away. More or less. A good distance. They set out in the dark. That’s the thing to do – see the temples as the sun’s coming up. They were almost there when they hit a lorry, or the lorry hit them. Head-on, in the middle of the road, on a bend. I don’t think they ever worked out who was to blame. Curtis couldn’t remember anything about it. One minute he’s in the car, next thing he knows he’s in hospital with all these tubes coming out of him and his head full of staples. The driver – Curtis’s driver – was killed. Don’t know about the chap in the lorry.


Six months before we saw him again, up in Scotland. You could see he’d taken a real battering. Asil brought him up in the mighty Mercedes, the battleship. More on Asil later, and the cars. I was in the garden when the battleship came in, and Asil went round to the passenger’s side to open the door, which was unusual. With people in that world, it’s par for the course. You no longer have to trouble yourself with opening a door. Big politicians, film stars, royalty. They don’t open doors. But that wasn’t Curtis’s style. He didn’t have to make a point about his status every minute of the day. We worked for him, but we weren’t his servants, if you know what I mean. Staff is what we were. Staff and servants are not the same thing. The people I was working with in Scotland, some of the places they’d worked, what their employers really wanted were slaves. Curtis wasn’t like that.


Right, so Asil opened the door and gave an arm for Curtis to grab onto. And when Curtis got out, he clearly wasn’t the person he’d been before. It was obvious, within seconds. The way he looked around. It was like he was having to refamiliarise himself with the place. Fix his bearings. He could have been a patient arriving at some super-deluxe clinic. Then he noticed me, and the smile was a good sign. But all he said was ‘How are you?’ Something like that. He didn’t use my name. Before, Curtis always used your name. It was a kind of courtesy. ‘Hello Jeannie. Hello Viv.’ Some people, you could be there a year and they still wouldn’t know you from Eve. But I had the feeling that my name hadn’t occurred to him immediately. He was having to search his memory for it, and it wasn’t available. The next time I saw him, though, in the morning, he knew my name then. And he knew Rosa’s name right off. She managed the household. The chosen one. Captain of the palace.


I didn’t get to speak to him properly for a couple of days, so it was the physical changes I noticed at first. For one thing, he’d lost weight. Quite a few pounds. And the way he walked. He had a stick for a while, and he had to concentrate on where he was putting his feet. Things that should have been automatic weren’t. He was uncertain rather than unsteady, like the ground wasn’t completely even. You’d see him stumble now and then, for a few months after he came back. There were headaches as well. Terrible headaches. I mean, the scar was not small. Like a parting, all the way from front to back. He’d get these head-splitters that could go on for hours and nothing would make them go away. He’d fill a sink with iced water and keep dunking his face in it. What Rosa told me. Dizziness too. He’d be sitting down and suddenly he was bobbing around on the sea. It got him down. You could see that. Someone who’d always been on top of things, on top of everything, and then this was happening. His brain had hijacked him. That’s what he said to Rosa. Hijacked by his own brain. The worst was when he couldn’t find the right word. Not just names. Random words, simple words. He just couldn’t get hold of them sometimes. That went on for some time. And he’d get angry about it. He’d never had the longest fuse, mind you. Read any of the articles about him and they’ll say something to that effect. Lara got that right. We’ll come on to Lara in a bit. Not suffering fools gladly. That’s how they put it. Being angry with himself, though – that was new. The tiredness as well. Not the kind of tiredness you get at the end of a hard day. It was like being hit by a wave. That’s how sudden it was. It smashed him. And for a time he had this sensation of trickling water, in his head. That must have been hard to live with. As if there was cold water trickling inside his skull, like a small pipe was leaking in there. It stopped, after a year or so. But still, it would have driven me round the bend.


Same with a stroke. My grandfather, Les, he was a mild sort of chap. Never exactly Mr Sunshine, but not what you’d call a gloomy character either. A bit dull, to be honest. Took things as they came. Then he had his stroke, and from that point on he was a miserable sod. Forever complaining. Finding fault. His speech was damaged, so sometimes you didn’t know what he was moaning about. One arm was completely useless too. Some people, they come out the other side of something like that with a sense of how precious everything is. A new urgency. Engagement. They’ve come close to the edge, and they’ve been pulled back, so they start to rethink their priorities. They realise they only have one shot at life and they’d better not waste it. Seize the day and all that. That wasn’t the way Les took it. No silver linings with granddaddy’s clouds. He was always getting depressed. He felt vulnerable, like the switch might go off at any moment. It affects different people differently. It’s amazing what can happen. Weird stuff. I’m not talking about just going from cheerful to miserable or miserable to cheerful. Sometimes the brain gets completely rewired. Harry, the maintenance man, he did some reading, after what happened with Curtis. Found some weird stuff. One woman, she had an accident when she was skiing. Fell and hit her head on a rock, and she went into a coma. And when she woke up, she could speak a language she hadn’t been able to speak before. Spanish, I think it was. She must have learned some Spanish at school and the knock jogged her memory. That’s what I thought. But Harry said she’d never studied it. She knew two or three words, from cookbooks and recipes. But when she came round she could speak whole sentences. Phrases, anyway. She’d picked up a language the way you pick up a virus. I’ll ask him where he read it, then I can send you a link, if you like. We’re still in touch. I’m in touch with most of them, which tells you something, doesn’t it?

An excerpt from Anne de Marcken’s It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over

The following excerpt is from the first pages of Anne de Marcken’s It Lasts Forever and Then It’s Over, the joint winner of the 2022 Novel Prize. Our heroine protagonist narrates the story from the afterlife.

I lost my left arm today. It came off clean at the shoulder. Janice 2 picked it up and brought it back to the hotel. I would have thought it would affect my balance more than it has. It is like getting a haircut. The air moving differently around the remaining parts of me. Also by turns a sense of newness and lessness – free me, undead me, don’t look at me.

Isn’t it strange that I never knew a single living Janice and now I know three?

I stay in bed all day. If I lie on my right side, I can keep the arm balanced as if it is still part of me. Or I can pretend it is your arm and that you are in bed with me. I think about how we used to take a blanket into the dunes and wrap up together. Wake with sand in our hair and in the corners of our eyes. Sound of the ocean big as the sky. I miss sleep. I miss you.

Mitchem says I’m in denial. That I am depressed because I am indulging in a sense of loss instead of wonder. ‘Embrace your new existence,’ he says. I picture myself trying to do this with one arm.

When I was alive, I imagined something redemptive about the end of the world. I thought it would be a kind of purification. Or at least a simplification. Rectification through reduction. I could picture the empty cities, the reclaimed land.

That was the future. This is now.

The end of the world looks exactly the way you remember. Don’t try to picture the apocalypse. Everything is the same.

Mitchem says it is important to do small, ordinary tasks when you’re depressed. That even if I don’t do anything else all day, I should make the bed. This morning he came in and opened the curtains. He stood over me, that half-moon head of his backlit by the window. He picked up the arm from where it was lying on the floor and held it out like something I needed to account for. He said, ‘You’ve experienced a significant loss.’ He said, ‘It isn’t just your arm.’ He said, ‘You’re grieving your life.’ Since he broke off his penis he’s Mr. Wisdom. When he left, I closed the curtains again. A glow creeps under my room door from the hallway where the lights are always on.

Yesterday Mitchem preached in the lobby. Today he set up on the roof. He stands on a side table from one of the rooms. Afterward I saw Bob following him around wearing a rain poncho like the one Mitchem wears. Uh oh.

Tried to make a harness for the arm. It is too heavy. Dead weight. Ha ha.

Found a shirt today with cuffs that button. It is red. I stuffed in the arm and buttoned myself in with it. The fit isn’t good. The arm slides down bare up to the elbow and flops forward in my way. Like the dislocated limb of a mannequin. It gets turned around in the sleeve and elbows me in the side. It is strange to see it like this. My hand. My wrist. The fingernails.

Smoke has settled down in the sound. Sunrises and sets have been dull and angry. The full moon dark red. Even inside the hotel it is hazy. Exit signs are dim irony at the ends of the long hallways. Wildfire, back-burn, blitz. Any way you look at it, a blaze we set.

Mitchem preached on the roof again tonight. Only the undead can truly understand the meaning of life, he said. There is no meaning, he said. Bob was there. He seems to have been promoted. Now he carries the side table around and stands nearby when Mitchem is up there. Which comes first, a believer or a religion? Others are showing up now, too. I can’t describe how strange it is. Someone puts her hands up in the air and then the others do it. Someone moans, and the others moan. You can see how this will go. There is talk of a revival.

That’s another thing – most of us can’t remember who we are… were…are. We are character actors to ourselves – people we recognise but can’t name.

It really bothers some of the hotel guests. They always have the troubled, distracted look of a person trying to remember something simple. They are attracted to one another. They sit together saying one name after another hoping if they hear their own name they will know it. They write names on the walls, in the elevator, on the air exchange unit on the roof, in the dust the dust the dust that covers everything. You can take a name for yourself. You can leave one for someone else. But why choose the name Janice when someone else is already using it? And who chooses the name Bob?

Author note: Manisha Anjali on Naag Mountain

Melbourne-based poet Manisha Anjali reflects on her debut book Naag Mountain (1 April 2024)an imagined recovery of the little-known cultural inheritance of a displaced and exploited people.

Dream a dream in your place of conception. Port Douglas, Far North Queensland. This dream will inform the next part of your book, and the next part of your life.

I received this instruction in my dream. I packed my bags, left Naarm and headed north. I wanted this book to be informed by what I would dream in Port Douglas. I ended up on Minjungbal country, Tweed Shire, NSW. Then state and international borders closed. Unable to travel, not all dreams could be re-enacted and performed, but many were. Naag Mountain is a collaboration between history and dream.

During this time, humpback whales were migrating to the warm waters of Queensland from Antarctica to give birth. Whale sightings were a near daily occurrence. I came to think of them as guides in the writing process, symbols of love breaching playfully into the salty clouds. I wrote sitting on the sand, on cliffs and rocks. I listened to the pulses and moods of the wild Pacific Ocean, a prominent entity in Naag Mountain. I was surrounded by sugar cane plantations. I communed with the ghosts of labourers and the darkness known by the land. I dreamed of spirits, music and the afterlife. Life was marked by red lunar eclipses, frog songs and driving down lonesome highways in my 1999 Mazda 626. I was tapping into the inherent creativity of the natural world, in a way that I hadn’t done since I was a child in Fiji. 

Naag Mountain is the recovery and aftermath of the girmit, the period between 1879 and 1916 when Indians were taken to Fiji for indentured labour on Australian-owned sugar cane plantations. Prior to my time living in the Tweed, I researched ancestral historiographies by way of archival documents, historical texts and oral histories from family members. I sought to recover the dignity, beauty and complexity of the girmityas, who otherwise only resided in the shadow of the archive and dissipating cultural memory. Living close to the sugar cane plantations on Minjungbal country, I came to understand history as a living, continuing phenomenon.

It was important that this narrative poem was told in the language of dreams. To follow, perform and write with the subconscious is to be in dialogue with the hidden and symbolic self. It made sense that the hidden stories of the girmit were rendered by this mystical process. The lines between reality and dream, truth and illusion dissolve.

I live a split existence between Australia, Aotearoa and Fiji. And so, Naag Mountain is also split across many lands, realms and timelines. It was written with immense love for the community whom the story is about. 

Photo: Leah Hulst

Grace Yee wins 2024 Victorian Prize for Literature for Chinese Fish

Melbourne-based poet Grace Yee has won the 2024 Victorian Prize for Literature, Australia’s most generous writing prize worth $100,000, for her verse novel and debut book, Chinese Fish. The surprise announcement was made at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards ceremony at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, during which Yee was also awarded the VPLA for Poetry, worth $25,000.

It was an exceptional day of recognition for Yee and her book, which was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in the poetry category earlier that morning. Yee holds dual citizenship in Australia and New Zealand, with Chinese Fish distributed on both sides of the pond.

A polyphonic, multi-generational and feminist tale which tells the story of a migrant family in Aotearoa New Zealand, Chinese Fish began as a PhD thesis. ‘I wrote it for myself,’ said Yee. ‘I had absolutely no ambitions for publishing it…[and] when I finished my thesis, it sat in the top drawer.’ You can hear Yee talk more on her book in her interview with Mel Fulton on Triple R’s Literati Glitterati, which aired a few months after Chinese Fish was published.

This is the second year in a row that a Giramondo author has taken away the Victorian Prize for Literature, with Jessica Au winning it in 2023 with her novel, Cold Enough for Snow.

Read Yee’s acceptance speech for the Victorian Prize for Literature and the VPLA judges’ comments on her book below. A transcript of Yee’s Poetry prize acceptance speech can also be found on her website.

Grace Yee’s VPLA acceptance speech

Grace Yee on stage at VPLAs after just being announced as the winner of the Victorian Prize for Literature.

If my parents were here, they would be gobsmacked. They would be astonished that this little story that I wrote even got published in the first place. This story, which was inspired by very ordinary people like them, to have been acknowledged like this is mind-blowing.

One of the things that has pleased me a great deal since I published the book, which I did not anticipate, is so many readers have reached out to me and told me how much this story has resonated with their own family stories of immigration and resettlement.

I think that literature is crucial for illuminating the ordinary. Ordinary people’s lives. Lives that have been marginalised, hidden, and erased. And for shining light on the darker recesses of the world. Literature raises really big questions and it has no easy answers. It gives us pause and I think those pauses are significant, more significant, when you read a story and the characters in that story, their lives are so very different to your own. That kind of literature gives us the biggest pause.

This award will enable me to have a bit of a pause and reflection. Which doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be doing anything! [laughter] Pausing and reflecting is as much of the writing process as putting pen to paper and putting words on a screen, as all writers know.

I am so very very grateful for this award, it is such an amazing honour. Thank you.

Watch the livestream of Grace Yee’s acceptance speech here.

Judges’ comments

Chinese Fish switches between lyric, dramatic and documentary poetic forms, to tell a multi-generational tale of the Chin family’s migration from Hong Kong to Aotearoa New Zealand. Yee focuses on women’s experience; particularly, how migration tests the relationship between a mother and her daughter. She tells this story with sparkling humour, wit, and stylistic verve, while paying sustained attention to historical circumstance – particularly everyday racism and the discriminatory government policies which affected Chinese migrants. Characters’ voices are interwoven with archival text and scholarly observations. Cantonese-Taishanese characters, peppered throughout the dialogue, enhance a reader’s connection to this fictive family and their past. We were impressed by how intelligently Chinese Fish braids its modes and forms, its feminist vision, and its literary and conceptual sophistication.

Order Chinese Fish on the Giramondo website, or find it in your local independent bookstore.

Additional coverage

’Melbourne poet Grace Yee wins the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature, Australia’s richest literary award’ABC Arts

‘Australia’s richest writing prize goes to Melbourne poet for family saga’Sydney Morning Herald

‘Debut poet Grace Yee wins $125,000 for ‘feminist vision’ at Victorian premier’s literary awards’Guardian Australia

The 2024 VPLA winners. Photo: The Wheeler Centre

‘I want to celebrate Astro, the robot boy I loved’: A poem from Television by Kate Middleton

Read a poem by the award-winning poet Kate Middleton. It appears in pages 14-5 of Television (1 February 2024), a collection in which Middleton considers the emotional impact that television programs had on her formative years.

Astro Boy