boy-lost-olsson       madnessamemoir

Congratulations to Kristina Olsson (Boy, Lost: A family memoir) and Kate Richards (Madness: A memoir), winners of the 2014 Kibble Literary Awards, one of Australia’s most prestigious female literature awards programs which were announced at the State Library of New South Wales last week by Perpetual, trustee and manager of the Awards.

The Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers comprise two awards (the Kibble and Dobbie Awards) which are presented annually and were established by Nita Dobbie to honour the legacy of her aunt Nita B Kibble, the New South Wales State Library’s first female librarian, who raised her from birth after her mother died. The Kibble Awards are open to Australian female writers who have published fiction or non-fiction classified as ‘life writing’. Since 1994, the Awards have recognised some of the country’s most celebrated female authors, including Annah Faulkner (The Beloved), Geraldine Brooks (Foreign Correspondence), and Helen Garner (True Stories).

In the late 1800s, Miss Kibble had successfully answered an advertisement for a junior assistant at the Public Library of New South Wales, when her signature was taken for a man’s. She later became the first woman to be appointed a librarian with the State Library of New South Wales and held the position of Principal Research Officer from 1919 until her retirement. Throughout her career she worked hard to raise the status of the library profession and was a founding member of the Australian Institute of Librarians. Miss Dobbie followed her aunt into the library profession and recognised the need to foster women’s writing in the community and so established the Awards, named after her inspirational aunt, through her will.

Perpetual’s General Manager of Philanthropy, Andrew Thomas, described Nita B Kibble as an important figure in the literary community and said her legacy highlights the critical role philanthropy plays in contributing to Australian culture.

“The Kibble Awards are a great example of the impact that philanthropy has on Australian women’s literature,” Mr Thomas said. “In the 21 years since the trust behind the Awards was established with $400,000, it has awarded close to $500,000 to female writers. We congratulate Kristina and Kate on being the latest winners to benefit from the Awards.”

Kristina Olsson

Author, Kristina Olsson. Photo: Russell Shakespeare.

The Kibble Literary Award (currently valued at $30,000) recognises an established Australian author and in 2014 was awarded to Kristina Olsson for Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir which has already won many awards.

Author Kate Richards at the Award Ceremony. Photo: Elizabeth Lhuede

Author, Kate Richards at the Award Ceremony. Photo: Elizabeth Lhuede

The Dobbie Literary Award (currently valued at $5,000) recognises a first published Australian author and in 2014 was awarded to Kate Richards for Madness: A Memoir.

Judge and Humanities Australia Editor, Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Webby AM, on behalf of the judging panel said: “Kristina Olsson’s Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir is an exceptional piece of life writing which recreates the fractured lives of her mother and half-brother with brilliant depth and truthfulness.

“Kate Richards’ book Madness: A Memoir recounts her struggles with mental illness in extraordinary language which is poetic in its intensity.”

Professor Webby was joined on the judging panel by State Library of New South Wales Research and Discovery Manager, Maggie Patton, and internationally published novelist, Dr Rosie Scott.


As I’ve said before, fell in love with this book and it smashed me to pieces (my favourite kind of book). I reviewed it for the Newtown Review of Books after I’d heard Kristina Olsson speak about it at last year’s Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in a session with last year’s Dobbie Award winner Lily Chan (Toyo: A memoir) — I interview her here.

Jessica White reviewed Boy, Lost saying: “Boy, Lost, is a memoir about Olsson’s mother Yvonne who, as a young ingénue, was swept off her feet and carried up north by a man who turned out to be brutal.  Just as she found enough courage to escape from him and to head back to Brisbane with their son, Yvonne’s husband tore Peter from her arms on the train. The memoir is an imagining of the circumstances of Yvonne’s life, while charting the impact of that missing child upon Yvonne and her other children. … Some readers and critics might quibble with the fictional elements of memoir, but all memory is, in one way or another, a fiction – we can never reconstitute memory exactly as it happened.  My impression of this work is that Kris, through conversations with family members and attention to photographic records, evokes personalities and events with sensitivity.”

AWW Challenge/History blogger Yvonne Perkins reviewed Boy Lost saying: “Above all Boy, Lost is one small story that allows us to peek into a dark period of the history of women, children and families in twentieth century Australia. Those family secrets held by too many Australian families are an important part of our history but very difficult to uncover. Through Boy, Lost Kristina Olsson shows one way that families can deal with them.” And you can read Yvonne’s interview with the author here.

Janine Rizzetti reviewed it here saying it is “beautifully told, with the crystalline clarity of authenticity.” Janine writes: “I very much enjoyed this book, even though it utilises two of the stylistic techniques that I usually dislike: very short chapters and use of the present tense.”


Janine Rizzetti begins her review of Madness: A Memoir writing: “I don’t know what to say.”

“A small preface to this book says:

This memoir relies on the many volumes of notes, observations, conversations, odd phrases and sudden ideas written during episodes of illness and transcribed here unedited.  It also relies on memory, which is commonly subjective and fragile, and on the notes of treating clinicians.  The events took place over a period of about fifteen years.  In the interests of telling a story, time is on occasion expanded and on occasion compressed.

And thus we climb into Kate Richard’s life and it’s not a good place to be.  She is a qualified doctor, but years of mental illness have made this career path untenable for her.  There is this chaotic, obsessive, hyper-sensitive existence inside her head that somehow co-exists falteringly with the semblance of a “normal” life: a job in medical research, friends, parents, a flat.”

She concludes: “This is such a brave book.  It is simply written, but it is hard to read.”


Christine Vickers also reviewed Madness: A Memoir over at her blog Freud in Oceania writing: “In these days where the evidence base counts for much — including the way the mental health dollar is spent — Kate Richard’s memoir shows the sheer humanness  that severe mental distress evokes in the patient as well as her treaters — the psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and nurses.  It affects families and workplaces; treating professionals and the institutions in which patients and treaters reside. Kate’s is not just a plea for understanding but also for the recognition of the complexity of mental illness that increased expenditure and thought in the mental health field might address.… Kate’s memoir shows that there are still many questions to be answered.”

Congratulations to all longlisted and shortlisted authors and as always, please keep your reviews coming in — they are all accessible via this link.

About Me

I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist, writer and editor. I blog over at Wordsville and can be found on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit