Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Premier's Literary Awards and the Uncommon Reader

Given Melbourne has been named the second UNESCO City of Literature, it is not surprising that last night's Victorian Premier's Literary Awards was an overwhelming success. A number of speakers pointed out the key role local publishers play in supporting the city's literary culture as they take a financial risk to bringing books to market. Without diminishing the role of publishers, the city's literary credentials are also backed up by numerous great book stores, inspiring local writers, and very importantly, an engaged, curious, adventurous, and dedicated population of readers.

The most inspired acceptance speech of the night (even if it did make the Premier appear more than a little uncomfortable) was Richard Flanagan's speech when accepting the John Curtin Prize for Journalism for Out of Control: Gunns and the Tragedy of Tasmania’s Forests. However, for me the most engaging and vivacious author was Lally Katz. Lally, it was fun and an honour to meet you. The story of coming to Melbourne from New Jersey, the hooker high heals, your wit and humour - face it you're fabulous. A very good friend won one of the previous year's RE Ross Trust Playwrights' Script Development Awards, so it was particularly delicious that you won one of this year's awards.

But back to the dedicated, curious, adventurous, and dedicated population of readers. I have just finished reading Alan Bennett's gloriously funny, witty, and subversive (yes subversive) novella The Uncommon Reader. While the book is about ERII discovering the joy and pleasure in reading, it is also a celebration of the power of words. Little wonder HM's obsession with books and reading unsettles the rest of the household and the Prime Minister. Now if only more world leaders spent a little more time reading. Surely, this could only make the world a better place.

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