The AAWP / SC Prize is a publication pathway for emerging writers. The prize is open to creative nonfiction. The Australasian Association of Writing Programs (AAWP) is delighted to partner with Slow Canoe Live Journal (SC) to provide this publication pathway for emerging writers. Heartfelt thanks to the judge for managing the judging process with such integrity—thank you for so generously donating your time in the interests of emerging writers.
2019 Winner: Anna Kate Blair ‘Marguerite Duras at the Tepid Baths’
Judging is despairing. Not because there are so few good pieces, but because there are so many that are so near to being fully realised, that never quite arrive, however much they promise that they will. There are of course, inevitably, bad pieces too, that feel like so many small electric shocks. That is meaningless. Every writer, perhaps, arguably, I would say, particularly those who are on to something, that are reaching for something, will in the beginning write poorly or ungenerously or wrongheadedly. I can think of a handful of writers that seem to have been born fully realised, though more likely they were born knowing how to hold off until they were. Maybe Anne Carson, definitely J.M. Coetzee: writers who themselves don’t quite feel real, who don’t have volume, particularly inconstant volume, the way the rest of us do.
So when you are judging, and you’re reading piece after piece, and you come across a writer who clicks words into sentences, and then clicks those sentences into paragraphs in a way that feels unquestionable, it’s a shock. It’s a little bit amusing. It makes you remember why you spend the time doing what you do. You don’t quite hear the back parts of your brain saying thank you, thank you, to the author as you read, but that is what’s being said back there. I think of funny Louis Kahn, the architect, asking brick what brick wants to be and saying, in front of a hall full of students, brick wants to be an arch. A good sentence, a good piece of writing, is simply one that feels as though it wants to exist, wants to be.
The winning entry of the inaugural AAWP SC Creative Nonfiction Prize, ‘Marguerite Duras at the Tepid Baths’, by Anna Kate Blair, is a very fine piece of writing. It’s about what it’s about and has to be read, but, in a simple, not quite right sense, it’s about the author taking up an activity, or inhabiting an obsession, of a person they’re experiencing the loss of and a tangible grief for, while they are also experiencing an apparently lesser, yet more immediate, grief, of a relationship breakdown. It works beautifully – as a cohesive block it’s quietly moving and quietly funny; it carefully and elegantly builds both a physical and conscious reality. But it also takes control of your reading – it has that tensile slow urgency that drags you far enough into itself so that you experience its elements, in the small and limited way that’s available to us, as the author does. I look forward to seeing what Anna Kate Blair does next.
I would also like to acknowledge another excellent entry: ‘The Price of Perfection’, by Helena Gjone, about a personal experience of the cruel rigour of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and questions around weight and beauty around dance more generally. This is an excellent piece of writing, showing genuine, early promise.
About the winner:
Anna Kate Blair is a writer from New Zealand. She holds a PhD in History of Art and Architecture from the University of Cambridge. Her work has appeared in publications including Litro, The Appendix, King’s Review and 10 Stories: Writing About Architecture. She is currently a Grace Marion Wilson Fellow at Glenfern Writers’ Studios in Melbourne.
About the commended author:
Helena Gjone recently completed the bachelor of psychological science and is currently undertaking honours in creative writing at Griffith University.