Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 6, 2018

2018 Patrick White Literary Award goes to Samuel Wagan Watson

My thanks to Books and Publishing for the news that the 2018 Patrick White Award has been awarded to Indigenous poet, essayist, scriptwriter and performer, Samuel Wagan Watson of Bundjalung and Birra Gubba descent.

Patrick White established the annual award using the money from his 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature.  The award is made to authors who ‘have made a significant but inadequately recognised contribution to Australian literature’.

I am indebted to Books and Publishing for the following information:

Watson is the second Indigenous writer to win the award in its 45-year history, after Tony Birch was awarded the prize in 2017. Watson is the author of three chapbooks and five collections of poetry, including Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight (UQP), which won the David Unaipon Award [in 1999] for an unpublished Indigenous writer. His collection Smoke-Encrypted Whispers (UQP) won the 2005 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry and the Book of the Year Award in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. His most recent full-length collection, Love Poems and Death Threats (UQP), won the 2016 Scanlon Award for Indigenous poetry, and was shortlisted for the 2016 South Australian Premier’s literary awards.

Wikipedia tells me that Watson was born in Brisbane in 1972.  His father is the novelist and political activist, Sam Watson and Watson gives credit to the influence of his parents, and also Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski and Robert Adamson.  He also says that he is influenced by music because it helps him block out the noise of his brother, with whom he lives!

You can read some of his poetry at Poetry International where you can also see praise by Anita Heiss:

Much Indigenous poetry is written and indeed read because of what it has to say (rather than how it is written), because it provides the political voice that Indigenous people are denied in other areas of Australian society. Watson’s writing is different, though. He has mastered the craft of writing and also says what he needs to say as a blackfella. He is not guilty of what he charges other writers with in ‘Author’s notes #2’. Some writers never cross beyond the second or third dimension of a page.

Watson’s insights and anecdotes are personal, almost voyeuristic to the reader, his topics universal and accessible, and his language is deliciously seductive.

The award will be presented on 7 November at the State Library of Queensland.


  1. Not a writer I’ve heard of, but then I don’t read poetry. Anyway good on him. Still, I wonder if the conditions of this award are getting harder to fulfill given the number of awards about these days.


    • Well #GrumpyFrown Given the lack of attention paid to the Barbara Jefferson award this year, maybe winning an award doesn’t necessarily mean a writer is ‘adequately recognised’. Although I’d published the shortlist I didn’t know the announcement was imminent until Jane Rawson mentioned it on Twitter and then I sat here at the computer refreshing the hashtag… waiting and waiting…
      Have a look for yourself and note the times and dates: – and this is one of our richest cash prizes!


  2. How great. I have been feeling guilty about not reading him or his father for ages – though, I’ve read one or two individual poems of his.


  3. Hi Lisa, I was not aware of Samuel Wagan Watson writings, but I have just reserved his Love Poems and Death Threats, from my library. I am looking forward to reading them.


    • I’m going to see if my library has them too…


  4. He won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for poetry (the Kenneth Slessor Award) a few years ago, and completely won my allegiance when he said that he was honoured to receive the award as a member of a much discriminated-against minority, that is to say, a poet. He also mentioned his Aboriginal identity.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. […] of Sorcery, Eroticism And Corruption by Samuel Wagan Watson of Bundjalung and Birra Gubba descent. He won the Patrick White Award in 2018. (The link is to Fishpond in case a second-hand copy turns up there, but I got my copy from The […]


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