The shortlist for the 2016 ACT Book of the Year was announced on Friday at the National Library of Australia by ACT Arts Minister Chris Bourke on the first day of the inaugural Canberra Writers Festival.
The ACT government has promised that if re-elected it will increase support for the Canberra Writers Festival with a financial contribution of $125,000 a year over the next three years.
Dr Bourke said 39 books by ACT authors – ranging across fiction, non-fiction and poetry – had been entered for the $10,000 prize, reflecting the diversity of writing in the Canberra community. He said the subject matter of the shortlisted books tied in well with the festival's themes of power, politics and passion.
The shortlisted books were: Locust Girl by Merlinda Bobis (Spinifex Press); The Eighties: the Decade That Transformed Australia by Frank Bongiorno (Black Inc. Books); The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader (Harper Collins); Moments by Subhash Jaireth ( Puncher & Wattman); and Illicit Love by Ann McGrath (University of Nebraska Press).
Locust Girl – which has won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction – is a political fable about a young woman with a locust embedded in her brow who undertakes a magical journey. Illicit Love by Anne McGrath is a history of love, sex and marriage between Indigenous peoples and settler citizens in the US and Australia from the 18th to the early 20th centuries.
The 47-year-old Bongiorno – who won the 2013 ACT Book of the Year for The Sex Lives of Australians: A History – said, "I was interested in treating a period I could recall – I was a teenager 30 years ago."
He was struck by how a lot of what happened in the decade, such as the economic reforms of the Hawke-Keating government, continued to influence what happened today, as well as other aspects of the era such as the impact of AIDS.
Robyn Cadwallader said her novel The Anchoress, set in 13th-century England, told the story of Sarah, a 17-year-old villager mourning the death of her sister and resisting pressure to marry who chose to be sealed up in a cell in a church.
"She would pray, read and counsel women in the village as a holy woman considered to be wise."
Cadwallader came across anchoresses when working on her doctorate about 15 years ago. The Anchoress is her first novel.
Moments by Subhash Jaireth is a collection of 11 short stories. Jaireth said, "I write stories in the voice of well-known artists, performers and musicians. There is a story, Bach (Pau) In Love where I try to figure out why Bach wrote the very lyrical, romantic cello suites".
The ACT Book of the Year has been supported by the ACT government since 1993. It is being judged this year by writer and Muse events manager Nikki Anderson, ANU Emeritus Fellow and writer Colin Steele and 2015 ACT Book of the Year shortlisted writer Sam Vincent and the winner will be announced in December.