ANU English Literature alumna wins Australia’s richest poetry award

Emily Stewart. Image by Lucy Parakhina.
Monday 22 November 2021

An emerging Australian poet who studied English Literature at the Australian National University (ANU) has won the nation’s richest poetry award.

Emily Stewart (B. Arts (First Class Honours) ‘09) was awarded the Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award, valued at $40,000, for her manuscript Running Time. She was at Varuna on a writing retreat, working on her creative doctorate, when she learned the news.

“It was a huge shock,” Emily says. “It was such a strong field and there was such a diversity of style and subjects and backgrounds represented that I just feel really stunned and grateful.”

She paid tribute to Associate Professor Jeanine Leane, who was previously a scholar with the ANU Australian Centre for Indigenous History. Associate Professor Leane won a School of Literature, Art and Media (SLAM) Poetry Award as the runner-up. 

“I think she’s a really brilliant poet,” Emily says. “It was a particular privilege to share that space with her.”

The shape and form of Running Time – which comprises four long episodic poems – was influenced by lockdown and the duration of that experience. It came about partly through the creative research Emily has been doing for her doctorate, which explores the relationship between walking and poetry. 

“It’s about rhythm and attention to the world around you and the conversation between your inner world and your outer shared social reality,” Emily says, explaining the link between the two. 

Walking was also a theme behind her decision to study at ANU.

“I really loved the feel of walking around the ANU,” she says. “It was the uni where I could just sort of imagine myself being.”

She has fond and vivid memories of ANU, where she majored in Anthropology and English Literature, before going on to do her Honours in the latter.

“I really felt that the teaching staff in the English department at ANU really cared and invested in their students,” Emily says. “There was a strong community around the discipline of English there. And I made friendships that have lasted through ththere years since.”

The influence of studying English Literature at ANU has carried through to today.

“I wouldn’t be pursuing a doctorate now if it wasn't for the skills I developed from the staff in the English Department,” Emily adds.

“The staff there encouraged my creativity, even in approaching scholarly writing and that gave me a sense of confidence and self-belief that definitely led me down this path of further studies.”

Emily described winning the Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award as having a transformative impact on her life and writing.

“For a lot of writers and artists – especially the last two years – it's been a really precarious time. So materially, it's quite transformative in allowing me to actually support my life and therefore opening up space to pursue my creative practice,” she says. “And it's also opened up the horizon of what I feel is possible for my work. It's given me a mandate to move forward with greater ambition and risk as I start to put together ideas for my next project.”

Emily Stewart’s Running Time will be published early in the New Year by Vagabond Press. You can find her first book Knocks, also published by Vagabond Press, here.

Written by Evana Ho

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Updated:  22 November 2021/Responsible Officer:  CASS Marketing & Communications/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications