In the news this month for history, memoir & biography (HMB) was the announcement of the Victorian Premier’s shortlist. Four women writers featured in the non-fiction shortlist. Hopefully we will have some AWW reviews of Offshore and Position Doubtful soon. In the meantime the AWW links for the other two are included below.
- Songs of a War Boy by Deng Adut with Ben Mckelvey (Hachette Australia)
- The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette Australia)
- The Killing Season Uncut by Sarah Ferguson with Patricia Drum (Melbourne University Publishing)
- Offshore: Behind the wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson (NewSouth Publishing)
- Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood (Scribe Publications)
- The Fighter by Arnold Zable (Text Publishing)
The winners of the Victorian Community History Awards were also recently awarded.
A self published book called These Walls Speak Volumes: A History of Mechanics’ Institutes in Victoria by Pam Baragwanath and Ken James was the overall prize winner. Magda Szubanski received the Judges Special Prize for Reckoning, The History Publication Award was given to Rozzi Bazzani for her book Hector: The Story of Hector Crawford and Crawford Productions. Judith Buckrich won the Local History Small Publication Award for The Village of Ripponlea and the Cultural Diversity Award went to Wadaddi Nabadda. Paths to Peace. Voices of the Somali Speaking Community by Anne Doyle. Finally the Collaborative Community Award went to Breaking Out: Memories of Melbourne in the 1970s edited by Susan Blackburn. It’s great to see local history and regional stories being recognised and supported by groups like this.
Historians featured well in this month’s reviews for HMB.
Although The Art of Time Travel is written by a male author, Tom Griffiths, it features chapters on five female Australian historians – Eleanor Dark, Judith Wright, Donna Merwick, Inga Clendinnen and Grace Karskens and for that reason I think it’s worth considering for the AWW reading challenge. Reviewed by Michelle @Adventures in Biography it has led to an interesting discussion about our favourite historians.
In a lovely piece of synchronicity, Jeanette @Newtown Review of Books shared her thoughts on Georgina Arnott’s biography, The Unknown Judith Wright. A book that aims to reveal the younger Wright with the purpose of charting her literary growth and development.
Wright had resisted any investigation of her youthful endeavours: ‘she preferred that early poetry was not discussed’. In this meticulous and respectful study, Arnott fills this gap, careful not to criticise earlier biographers, nor to accuse Wright of wilfully manipulating her life story. Using an extensive range of primary sources, Arnott traces Wright’s styles and themes through materials such as scrapbooks of juvenilia, and her columns in the University of Sydney student magazine Honi Soit.
Another meticulous and respectful study was produced by Brenda Niall in her biography Mannix.
Reviewed by two of our challenge participants this month – Yvonne @Newtown Review of Books wrote that,
A weakness of popular Australian history is how the lives of the millions of immigrants we have received over the centuries are truncated. Their early lives in their countries of origin are too often dismissed in a few paltry paragraphs. It is almost as if the act of arriving in Australia makes the immigrant a tabula rasa, his or her life only starting when setting foot on Australian soil. Biography provides the corrective by looking at the whole life of the subject, but the biographer’s task for someone like Mannix is more difficult, as it’s necessary to explore the archives and the cultures of two countries, not one.
Nancy @Ipsofactodotme, writing from The Netherlands, was surprised by how much she learnt about Irish politics whilst reading an Australian biography, which would indicate that Niall was indeed successful in providing a complete picture of Mannix’ life prior to his immigration to our shores.
It’s always lovely to see some older HMB publications being reviewed as well.
Sue @Whispering Gums reviewed a 2000 biography/autobiography called Heddy & Me by Susan Varga.
Heddy and me was, I suspect, groundbreaking when it was first published, not so much for its portrayal of personal experience of the Holocaust, because such stories started appearing soon after the war, but for Varga’s intensely personal exploration of women’s experience and identity across three generations, before, during and after the war.
Heddy and me… illuminates the personal and familial costs of the Holocaust, but also provides an historical perspective on that mysterious thing we call human behaviour. This book deserves a continued life.
Jennifer reminded us of Elizabeth Hodgson’s powerful and moving 2008 verse novel/poetry memoir Skin Painting. She summed up her experience by saying “This is a book I need to keep. To revisit and reread. I’ve read all of the words, but not yet absorbed all of the meaning.”
Finally, Carolyn took us back to 2012 with her review of Abandoned Women: Scottish Convicts Exiled Beyond the Seas by Lucy Frost.
Where has your HMB reading taken you this month?
About Bronwyn: I have been a book blogger at Brona’s Books since 2009 and a bookseller (specialising in children’s literature) in Sydney since 2008. Prior to this I was as an Early Childhood teacher for 18 years in rural NSW.
I taught myself to read when I was four by memorising my Dr Seuss books. I haven’t stopped reading since.
You can find me on Twitter @bronasbooks and Litsy @Brona.