Saturday, November 22, 2008

David Malouf Wins the Groundbreaking Australia-Asia Literary Award

Australian writer David Malouf is the first winner of the Australia-Asia Literary Award for The Collected Stories of David Malouf. He is the author of three previous story collections, as well as eight novels, six poetry collections, three nonfiction works, a play, and three opera librettos. The prize pays a generous $110,000 (Australian, which is the equivalent of roughly $62,500 U.S.).

The Australia-Asia Literary Award is for: "a book-length work of literary fiction written by an author resident in Australia or Asia, or a work primarily set in Australia or an Asian country. Works must have been either written in, or translated into, English and published in the preceding year." As one of the judges points out, this covers almost two-thirds of the world's population.

This is a very interesting book award--smart and daring--on several levels. In the first place, the creator and backer of the prize is the Government of Western Australia's Department of Culture and the Arts. It's hard to imagine any branch of any government in the U.S.--local, state, or federal--creating a literary award and funding it so generously. Secondly, not only print but also electronically published works are eligible--a very progressive notion. And finally, the award accepts entries of works in translation or with multiple authors (up to three). They've even established a split for translated works--$88,000 to the writer and $22,000 to the translator. That's always been one of the hurdles to judging translated work, and I think they are right to give the translator a share of the prize.

Another interesting feature is that each of the three judges has posted his or her notes on the Web site. This is from Pakistani writer (and University of Massachusetts MFA grad) Kamila Shamsie:

David Malouf is a writer of rare genius. Within the demands of the short story form he can give us a world containing a complex melange of characters, or he can take a single, seemingly insignificant moment and show all the depth and possibility it contains within it. There is tremendous power to his writing—regardless of whether he is describing a boys' encounter with nature or a woman's experience of heartbreak.

Malouf is a writer I've heard a lot about and, I must confess, I haven't read. We had hoped to consider The Collected Stories for The Story Prize last year, but we didn't receive an entry, probably because we require our finalists to attend our event, which could have been difficult for an Australian writer. In any event, some have compared his stories to those of Alice Munro and William Trevor. So I think it might be a good idea to catch up with his work soon.