Acclaimed Tasmanian author Amanda Lohrey has won the nation’s most prestigious literary award for the novel she worked on as a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.
Amanda’s seventh novel The Labyrinth was announced as this year’s $60,000 Miles Franklin Literary Award winner in an online ceremony on 15 July. She thanked the ANU in her acceptance speech, saying: “…to The Australian National University, who out of the blue gave me the HC Coombs Fellowship and three wonderfully quiet undistracted months working on that beautiful campus. And in that time I did in fact complete The Labyrinth.”
Amanda was hosted by the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics while she was the 2016 HC Coombs Creative Arts Fellow. The Fellowship, created in 1964 by then ANU Pro-Chancellor HC Coombs, was designed to allow artists to engage in a period of uninterrupted creative work in residence at ANU.
"I don’t know if I could have finished it without that fellowship,” Amanda says. “I was stalled in the work at the time and being at the university and turning up every day to that quiet room beside the Classics Museum released something in me."
The Miles Franklin Literary Award was established through the will of author Miles Franklin. The website describes the prize as being awarded each year “to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”.
In describing The Labyrinth, this year’s judges said: Through assured and measured prose, the author’s narrative becomes a profound meditation on creation and destruction, time, memory, entrapment, asylum and community.
ANU literature scholar Dr Julieanne Lamond said in an essay for the Sydney Review of Books: The Labyrinth is a novel that asks how to keep going in the wake of a disaster that has no neat ending – like most disasters in real life, which are complex and unfolding and entangle us in ways that make the idea of ‘moving on’ or ‘getting over it’ feel impossible. […] The Labyrinth is just the kind of novel we need now: sharp-edged but ultimately hopeful about our ability to survive the disasters that befall us.
“Amanda Lohrey is a writer who has made a tremendous contribution to Australian literature and its readers, steadfastly thinking and writing about the times we are in and how best to respond to them for more than three decades,” Dr Lamond added, in the wake of the award announcement. “I am absolutely thrilled to see her receive this recognition.”
Dr Lamond’s book Contemporary Australian Writers: Amanda Lohrey is due to be published by Melbourne University Press later this year.
The HC Coombs Creative Arts Fellowship is currently in its 56th year. The Fellowship has supported notable Australian artists including Judith Wright and John Perceval, and more recently, Andrew Farriss and music producer Mark Optiz.
Amanda Lohrey will return to the ANU to present an Association for the Study of Australian Literature Patrons’ Lecture on 18th November 2021.
Written by Evana Ho / ANU