The Christina Stead Prize 2017!
“I cannot express how wonderful it is to bring such an award home to Tasmania.”
Writing is a long game. Or at least it has been in my case. To those who have read my Stella Prize speech, you’ll know I’ve been writing since I was a very small child. Since before I even had words but simply knew I wanted to put pen to paper and express things. And this year, 2017, Year of Writing Miracles, has somehow emerged as a year where all that hard work has come to fruition. On May 23rd, as part of the New South Wales Premier’s Prizes, The Museum of Modern Love won the Christina Stead Prize for fiction.
The Christina Stead prize commemorates the brilliant Australian author Christina Stead. It has previously been won by the most incredible list of authors – and I am humbled and awed by finding my book among them. They include Helen Garner, Elizabeth Jolley, Beverley Farmer, Kate Grenville, Alex Miller, Robert Drewe, J.M.Coetzee, Joan London, Merlinda Bobis, Carrie Tiffany, Michelle De Kretser, Thea Astley, Tim Winton, David Malouf, Peter Carey …
Most excitingly, it has only once before been won by a Tasmaniam. That was back in 1989 for Helen Hodgman’s novel Broken Words. Helen was actually born in England and only spent a few teenage years in Tasmania, so this is the first time it’s gone to a born and bred Tasmanian. I’m particularly proud of that for all my fellow Tasmanian writers and the rich reading community that has so generously supported my writing over the past 20 years.
I cannot express how wonderful it is to bring such an award home to Tasmania. I hope this inspires many other writers not only in Tasmania but in all the remote parts of Australia, who often work with a sense of increased isolation from the literary centres of Melbourne and Sydney, and all writers who work long and hard at their craft in the hope of a breakthrough moment in their careers, that sometimes – sometimes – it happens. I do hope it happens for you.
About Christina Stead
The award commemorates Christina Ellen Stead (1902-1983), Australian novelist and short-story writer. Stead was born in Rockdale, New South Wales. She published fifteen novels beginning with The Salzburg Tales and Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934). Her most well-known novel The Man Who Loved Children (1940) was based on her childhood in Sydney. Stead lived most of her life overseas, in Europe and the U.S., but retained a strong sense of national identity, reviewing Australian novels for the New York Times Book Review and keeping up with news from Australia through family correspondence. Her work, including several volumes of short stories, is acclaimed for her satirical wit. Stead’s literary popularity in Australia increased significantly after her return in 1974. The same year she received the inaugural Patrick White Literary Award to recognise her lifetime achievement.
In a now semi-famous aphorism, mid-century French philosopher Simone Weil called attention ‘the rarest and purest form of generosity’, and more than the spirit of that observation inhabits Heather Rose’s deeply striking seventh novel. Initially centred on Arky, a composer for film, The Museum of Modern Love deftly orchestrates a range of characters including the US-Serbian artist Marina Abramović. In Abramović’s 2010 work The Artist Is Present, people were invited to sit silently in a chair directly across from her in order to share each other’s gaze. This is pivotal for a novel deeply concerned with the expansiveness of attention and the limits of responsibility.
The narrator’s voice gives the novel a quiet power, as if the universe was filled with a non-meddling benevolence. There’s a cinematic quality too, with even minor figures sketched in with sure and affecting touches. The Museum of Modern Love is alive with the surprise and challenge of presence in many of its forms — it is a very generous book indeed.
Images and storytelling have been intertwined since the first human beings gathered by a painted wall to tell tales in the firelight. Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love works with these ancient ghosts with exquisite care and intelligence. Positing grief and art as deep echoes that corroborate the transitory nature of our lives, Rose brings the reader to a place of acceptance despite the inevitable darkness. With rare subtlety and humanity, this novel relocates the difficult path to wonder in us all.
This lovely picture is NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian handing me the prize. I love the delight in both of us!