Elena Govor, My Dark Brother, Sydney, 2000
National Biography Award nomination
Angela Bennie, They're six of the best, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 2002
Such is the strength of writing in the field of biography and memoir in Australia today, the biennial National Biography Award is to become an annual event.
And the calibre of books short-listed for this year's award proves the point.
Chosen from 69 entries, the shortlist of six ranges from personal memoir to literary biography, from an account of our first prime minister to one of our great spin bowlers, all by writers of first rank in their field.
The six are Geoffrey Burton’s Edmund Barton (Allen & Unwin), Inga Clendinnen’s Tiger’s Eye: A Memoir (Text Publishing), Robert Drewe's The Shark Net: Memories and Murder (Penguin), Elena Govor's My Dark Brother: The Story of the Illins, a Russian-Aboriginal Family (UNSW Press), Gideon Haigh's Mystery Spinner: The Story of Jack Iverson (Text Publishing) and Jacqueline Kent’s A Certain Style: Beatrice Davis, a Literary Life (Viking).
“We are now into our fourth year,” said Geoffrey Cains, the award’s founder and benefactor, “and the high number of entries and the high quality it is attracting suggests the prize is now well established and accepted.
“So we felt that it was time to make it an annual event. But it is also a matter of logistics - one year we had 84 entries.”
Cains inaugurated the prize in 1996 – “I wanted to give back to literature something, it had given me so much; besides, philanthropy in this country is so overlooked and diminished” - with a prize purse of $12,500. But Cains said yesterday he is also considering increasing the prize money incrementally, given the award’s success and increasing prestige.
The winner will be announced at the State Library of NSW on Friday, March 22. Previous winners have been Abraham Biderman's The World of My Past, Roberta Sykes's Snake Cradle and, jointly, Mandy Sayer's Dreamtime Alice and Graham Robb's M taking out the 2000 prize.