Gail Jones writes in The Guardian, "The Australian Prime Minister's Awards - for which I've been shortlisted -are a great idea, but the prime minister should have no part in the judging process."
She is also ambivalent about literary shortlists, which she considers a "contingent, precarious and sometimes perverse system of value." Too many writers are distracted by them -- "I have seen writers tormented by lists, driven to despair by missing listings, and narcissistically inflated to grotesquerie by the mere appearance of their name in a newspaper" she says. "New writers beware."
In Australia, the election of the Rudd Labour government raised hope in the arts world that writers and artists would be given attention at last. This was boosted by the announcement of the new Prime Minister's Awards for Literature : it almost seemed as if a "new dawn was coming," she writes. "It seemed, simply by its announcement, to affirm a new commitment to literary culture, to legitimate its importance, and to suggest, almost heretically, that writing was an activity worthy of serious regard and reward.
"Now that the shortlist is out, it is also interesting to see what appears to be a heterodox assortment - not just the usual suspects, but a provocative mix that includes a first novel, a second novel and a novel in verse, alongside well-known luminaries like Malouf and Keneally. This alone is bound to cause controversy and seems to signal a new and audacious spirit of cultural appraisal.
"But should the Australian prime minister have a say in "his" award? Emphatically not. Judging panels are contentious enough without prime-ministerial opinion inflecting adjudication. The winning text risks being seen as content-endorsed, or in some way charged by political approval."
In timely style, she concludes that "this sounds like an Olympian mistake."
The Prime Minister's Literary Awards give one prize for fiction and one prize for nonfiction. Refreshingly, the nonfiction shortlist is not limited to Australian studies.
Burning In, Mireille Juchau
El Dorado, Dorothy Porter
Jamaica, Malcolm Knox
Sorry, Gail Jones
The Complete Stories, David Malouf
The Widow and Her Hero, Tom Keneally
The Zookeeper's War, Steven Conte
A History of Queensland, Raymond Evans
Cultural Amnesia: Notes on the Margin of my Time, Clive James
My Life as a Traitor, Zarah Ghahramaru with Robert Hillman
Napoleon, the Path to Power 1769-1799, Philip Dwyer
Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers, Philip Jones
Shakespeare's Wife, Germaine Greer
Vietnam: The Australian War, Paul Ham