The ALS Gold Medal for 2007 has been awarded to Carpentaria by Alexis Wright (Giramondo).Highly Commended:
Other Summers by Stephen Edgar (Black Pepper)The Infernal Optimist by Linda Jaivin (Fourth Estate/ Harper Collins)Dark Roots by Cath Kennedy (Scribe)The panel of judges read a wide range of books published in 2006 by Australian writers. Publishers who supplied requested and additional titles include (as well as those named above): Allen & Unwin, Black Ink, Brandl and Schlesinger, Chatto & Windus, East Street, Flood Editions, University of Queensland Press, Pandanus, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Picador, Pinchgut Press, Random House, Salt, Text, Wakefield Press, Vintage. The judges were impressed by the range of genres employed and the range of audiences that this range represents. This is reflected in their Highly Commended list, which includes a book of poetry, a collection of short stories and a comic novel.
ALS Gold Medal Winner: Carpentaria by Alexis Wright (Giramondo)
This book, the judges believe, will shift our thinking about the shape and sound of Australian literature. Wright has crafted an epic tale that unites stories and tall tales from past generations with the crackling voices and head-on battles of the present day in her ancestral country, the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Peopled by the black and white inhabitants of the imaginary town of Desperance and its nearby mine, Gurfurrit, the book is also inhabited by spirit people, devils and angels, and by creatures: a talking cockatoo, a giant pig and a plague of bats, and the frogs that, in its final scene, are heard “singing the country afresh”. Images that stay with the reader long afterwards include a burning mine, a floating island of rubbish, monsoonal storms, miles of mudflats, migrations of birds and fish, a lone man in a green wooden boat navigating by the stars, a man making “fish jewels”, the rival Aboriginal camps of East and West Pricklebush and white Uptown with its safety net made of prayers stretched over the town.
Combining epic and lyric poetry, surreal comedy and sharp satire, Dreaming stories and Old Testament tribulations, with elements of grand opera, the Western and the murder mystery, Carpentaria is endlessly elastic in its forms, mixing white and Indigenous traditions. It is a giant of a novel, an extraordinary imaginative achievement, full of feeling, humour, knowledge and power.
The voice that Alexis Wright has crafted to tell her tales is unlike anything we have heard before in Australian literature. It can speak the languages of opera and popular song as well as rendering the rhythms and idiom of Aboriginal English. It can sing and scream and pray and crack jokes.
Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Carpentaria is a rare, important and memorable book that extends her impressive earlier fictional work, Plains of Promise.
Highly Commended Books
Other Summers by Stephen Edgar (Black Pepper)
The poems gathered in this collection are both graceful and language-wise: intensely crafted, inward yet widely referential, inventive, formal and candidly eloquent. Edgar uses precise diction and musical forms to carve nuance out of vast emotional spaces. His poems show great and mature accomplishment through their tender openness to emotions of love and loss.
The Infernal Optimist by Linda Jaivin (Fourth Estate/ Harper Collins)
This comic take on life in an Australian detention centre reaches out to new audiences. Jaivin’s novel represents the terrible stories of refugee experience through the voice of a petty criminal, a Turkish Australian wrongfully detained for “not being a citizen”. Zek’s point of view is tragicomic, his voice that of the “fool” through whose innocence we see into this closed-off world of misadventure, humanity and inhumanity. Jaivin’s ear is brilliantly tuned to demotic expression, using it to share her outrage through comedy.
Dark Roots by Cath Kennedy (Scribe)
All the stories in this collection are ingeniously conceived and deftly and elegantly executed, while moving us with their perceptions on violence, love, self-deception, death and grief. Together they dramatise an astonishing range of situation and character. Kennedy speaks of the sounds and silences between words; pitches “too high for the human ear”; the strangeness and quietness of “learning to name something”. This book celebrates the strength of the short story as a literary form that is perhaps at its best when directed towards how we live now.
Judges: Susan Sheridan (Chair), Nicholas Jose, Alice Healy.