Are there too many literary awards in Australia, and is our oldest one “slipping away”? If an Australian literary award was provided increased funding and focus, would the Miles Franklin be the most relevant?
Every year the Miles Franklin Literary Award attracts some debate and controversy, but the award’s prestige is waning, noted Alex Miller — a two-time winner and shortlisted author in this year’s awards — at the shortlisting ceremony yesterday. Miller, as reported in The Australian, said Prime Minister “Rudd the Dud” and arts minister Peter Garrett should have invested in the nation’s oldest literary award, instead of creating the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2008 (worth $100,000, to the MF’s $42,000), which he said “gets no publicity and will probably disappear when someone else becomes prime minister”.
Miller’s main point is that there are too many literary awards, and so it’s inevitable that there will be less focus on each. Besides the Prime Minister’s awards, there are various state Premier’s awards, and many other trust, media, festival, company and privately funded awards. Many are relevant for their individual fields and genres (such as the CBCA awards for children’s and young adult literature) but dispersing funding around for fiction awards when one solid, prestigious and attention-focused literary award could be developed, is a good point. Would the public pay more attention?
If this was put into effect, though, is the Miles Franklin really the award for the job? Sure, it was established in 1957, and has been won by culturally important, and stimulating, authors and books. Patrick White’s Voss was the recipient of the first award, as Miller noted. But the Miles Franklin’s criteria is stricter than awards established since: “It is awarded for the novel of the year which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”. This is what Miles Franklin included with her bequest. What “Australian life in any of its phases” means, exactly, is something that comes up often in discussion of the shortlisted books. Continue reading