Elizabeth Jolley prize fitting tribute to a great Australian writer

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Contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence

The Australian Book Review has announced a new literary competition: the 'ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize'. Tess Lawrence talks about the lady and the literature.
For some years, I have had the literary hots for Elizabeth Jolley; whenever I interviewed her or talked with her, that imagined line between interviewer and subject would be well and truly transgressed. Like Isak Dinesan, it was the mask she wore by which you knew her.

I never think of Elizabeth as being dead. Not while her words are alive. They are blood and bone. And sinew. And muscle. But more than that, they contain the powerhouse and protein of a brain. Yours. Hers. More interactive than unsocial media.

One of my fave raves for Elizabeth is her Lovesong. Our Lovesong really, since do not writers ultimately bequeath themselves to their readers?

Have you read Lovesong? Do yourselves a favour. Read it. If you don't you'll miss out on some beautiful Australian literature; literature, fullpoint.

She was a deep, deep thinker whose intellect floated close to the surface of her writing. So we could scoop it up and drink it in; quenching the thirst to know one another. And to know of one another.

Cop this from Lovesong, published in 1997. Not telling you from which Chapter it is taken. You will have to swim through this lyrical literary pool for yourself. It's such a treat:

"He thinks now that, if he remembers correctly, it was Socrates who was supposed to have said that the lover is nearer the divine than the beloved: for the god is in the one but not in the other; and perhaps this is the most tender of all thoughts and possibly is the source of all the treachery and the secret happiness the lover knows. Feeling at the time, that he was the beloved he questioned this but only carelessly and, in turn, became the lover and felt he was the supreme owner, his mind bowing down in homage before beauty."

Is not the whole world captured in those few words?

Elizabeth was only 53 when her first novel, Palomino was published in 1980. Hold that thought.

Her first short story/collection, Five Acre Virgin and Other Stories was published in 1976.

And this is where Independent Australia readers are invited to come in, courtesy of the Australian Book Review.

The ABR has already announced the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize.

Closing date is June 11, a week after what would have been Elizabeth's 88th birthday. So you've got time to dust off any manuscripts that are yellowing behind the bookshelf or keeping stable the kitchen table.

If you don't want to enter this competition yourself, you might know of someone who needs a bit of encouragement and support to enter. So please pass it on.

In writing generally, and as in this award, there are no upper or lower age limits and new and established writers are equally welcome.

First prize is a generous $5000, with another three prizes of $1000 each for short-listed stories.

The ABR invites single-authored entries of between 2000 and 5000 words, written by Australian citizens or permanent residents.

The results will be announced by the ABR in October and the winning story published in that month's (Fiction) issue.

What's not to love?  This is a chance to at least put your passion into words. The possibilities are endless for subject matter. You might have been moved or intrigued about something you read in Independent Australia around which you can weave a yarn.

There might be an event or character in your family history, into which you can breathe life.

Or something happening in your neighbourhood that you can weave into a short story.

Sometimes, mere headlines have provoked short stories/novels/films.

Maybe you saw something on Facebook, or read a Tweet that intrigues you; maybe a single line — even a single word.

Anyway, the whole of life is your storyboard.

Jolley was an acute observer of the human condition. She was/is forensic in the way she gets inside the heads of her characters. Your head. Our heads.

The Birmingham-born migrant, who went to a Quaker boarding school, was profoundly affected by the horrors of war and was fascinated with the stories and predicament of the many European refugees who visited and stayed with her family.

How wonderful that she and her husband Leonard were to migrate to Western Australia.

The contribution they both made to literary life - and literary lives - should not be underestimated.

She mined every experience as fuel for her writing; including her time as a cleaner, as well as a Professor of Creative Writing.

Some of her students went on to great critical acclaim, including Tim Winton. Elizabeth would be the first to encourage you all to have a go and enter this competition.

Sadly, dementia was to leak into that fine brain of hers and she died in a Perth nursing home four years ago.

But not before leaving the world an extraordinary body of incisive works that I wish would be made into a TV series; at least her short stories.

Much is made of her 'nanna-like' appearance that belied a great mischief and literary coquette.

But there remains a great warmth and affection for other human beings in her work, and for eccentric characters.

Elizabeth was such a Jolley good fellow. Not just in a literary sense. And so says all of us. Me, anyway.


(ABR Media release)

Announcing the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize

Elizabeth Jolley

Australian Book Review is delighted to announce the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize, worth a total of $8000.

Entries should be single-authored stories of between 2000 and 5000 words written by Australian citizens or permanent residents.
Results will be announced in October and the winning story will be published in the October 2011 (Fiction) issue.

First Prize $5000.

Three Short listed stories $1000 and publication.

Closing date June 11.

This is an invaluable opportunity for new and established writers.

Please forward this email to any friends or colleagues who may wish to enter.

The guidelines and entry form are available from

ABR gratefully acknowledges the generous support of Mr Ian Dickson.  
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