Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 5, 2021

2021 National Biography Award shortlist

Update 26/8/21: the winners were announced today.  This is from the awards announcement on Facebook:

Cassandra Pybus’ “vivid and complex” portrait of remarkable First Nations woman Truganini has won the $25,000 National Biography Award.
Her book ‘Truganini: Journey through the apocalypse’ presents the extraordinary story of a Nuenonne woman from Bruny Island, whose life has been shrouded in myth for almost two centuries.
“We were all impressed by Truganini, which combined evocative writing with scholarly research. The perceptive analysis of cultural incomprehension between black and white in 19th century Australia shows the resulting deceit, treachery, intentions both benevolent and malevolent, and unintended consequences,” said Senior Judge Suzanne Falkiner.
This year’s $5,000 Michael Crouch Award for Debut Work went to Andrew Kwong for his powerful and heartfelt memoir, ‘One Bright Moon’.
“Kwong’s understated but highly effective account of a childhood in Maoist China and his eventual journey to Australia is both historically informative and moving in its description of his family’s sacrifices for him,” said Ms Falkiner.

The shortlist for the 2021 National Biography Award was announced today.

Also, Highly Commended:

  • Lowitja by Stuart Rintoul, see my review
  • Into the Suburbs, by Christopher Raja (abandoned)
  • The Shelf life of Zora Cross by Cathy Perkins

The winners will be announced on 26 August. See judges comments here.


  1. I’ve read both Truganini and Archie Roach. Both were excellent.


    • I’ll have to get on and read Truganini, it’s been on my shelf too long.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Lisa, I hope your wrist is improving. Max is my favourite, though I have only read Truganini and the Lotus Eaters. I love Alex Miller’s writing.


    • Tell me, Meg, you know my taste so well by now, would I like The Lotus Eaters?


  3. Hello engaged readers,
    I’m elated to see that there are subjects of color featured in the 2021 National Biography Award shortlist. In the United States, there are some nationwide literary awards that are making intentional efforts to acknowledge and represent books by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) writers.


    • Life writing by Indigenous authors has been strong for decades here, and I’ve been reading them since the 80s, but they’ve mostly been memoirs and autobiographies, often by members of the Stolen Generation. I could be wrong, but I think that biographies of Aboriginal leaders are fairly new … I’ve checked the ToC of the Macquarie PEN anthology of Aboriginal Writing and there are no titles that are obviously biographies, but that doesn’t mean that bios haven’t been written by non-Indigenous authors. There are, as I’m sure you know, all kinds of awkward issues around this from appropriation to Indigenous politics to religious beliefs about not naming the dead. There are also protocols about visiting communities and ‘yarning’ about other things before anyone is willing to share information about the subject of the bio, which can make research difficult and expensive. (I should add that these protocols have been developed because Indigenous people are sick of being ‘written about’ and not having agency over their own stories.)


  4. I love Archie Roach’s book. I was adopted by a woman of Indigenous heritage who had little knowledge of her family lines. I met Emily Clements when she was working on Lotus Eaters; we were both selected for ACT Writers Hardcopy program for emerging non-fiction authors, four years ago. It must be a tough gig to select a winner from shortlists.


  5. I love Archie Roach’s book. I was adopted by a Kamilaroi-heritage woman who knew little about her family lines, to her sadness. I met Emily Clements as part of 2017 ACT Writers Hardcopy program for emerging non-fiction writers. It is a tough gig for judges selecting from this shortlist, and the highly commended works.


    • Hello Katrina, thank you for your comment.
      Your comment about your adoptive mother’s loss comes just as the Feds have announced compensation for the Stolen Generations, and I have mixed feelings about it. I’m pleased that *finally* it is happening, and I recognise that its importance is that it’s the long-awaited acknowledgement—but it’s a miserable amount considering the pain and suffering.
      Hardcopy was a good program… it’s a shame it folded.
      I had a look at your blog and the info about your book Shooting Through…I think I might have heard about it via Radio National. Have you considered asking Janine at to review it?


  6. Hi Lisa,
    Looking forward to reading ‘Archie Roach’. Currently reading ‘What the Colonists Never Knew: a history of Aboriginal Sydney’ by Dennis Foley and Peter Read. Have you read it? It is full of rich anecdotal remembrance, personal & real, interwoven by historical fact – a rich collaborative text which explains the how & why of Aboriginal invisibility which we Sydneysiders grew up with. To quote Bruce Pascoe in his foreword “It is a mesmerising read”

    Barbara (I am a volunteer librarian at the Jessie Street Women’s Library in Ultimo)


    • How wonderful that there is a library named after Jessie Street! I’ve just looked at the website and it looks like a great resource, I’ll be sure to visit it if I’m ever in Sydney again.
      I haven’t come across that book but I’ve read something similar about Melbourne called Melbourne Dreaming, which is a series of walks that take you to places of Indigenous significance.
      When you think about it, there should be a series for all the Australian cities…


  7. How did I miss this one? So much going on here – haha! I’ve only read Archie Roach, but I’d like to read Max and the Zora Cross one (which I have on my TBR). I’m less sure about Truganini because a few historians have questions about it. Still it’s been shortlisted, but the judges I see, aren’t historians. Janine has a balanced response, though and approves it for general readers.

    BTW you have a little typo on Alex Miller (you can edit my comment and delete this sentence if you like)


    • LOL That typo was hilarious, serves me right for trying to do things quickly with my one handed typing. (I remember doing this one, I was so tired I didn’t even hunt around for reviews.)
      Oh well at least L is kind of close to M.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought it was funny too, but I guessed it was the one-handed stress!


        • Two weeks to go today till I get the cast off, if all goes well. But my fingers have swollen up again over the last couple of days, which isn’t good…


          • Dare I say you are not resting them enough!! Should your wrist be kept raised a bit? That’s usually a remedy for swelling. Do look after yourself. Say, “yes, mother Sue”!


            • You’re partly right. Yes, keeping it raised is important, but the physio also says that the exercises are crucial and I think he’s right… I’d slacked off a bit, and now that I’m back to being more rigorous, three times a day plus whenever I think of it, the swelling is going down a bit.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Oh yes, of course, exercises. Hard to maintain sometimes – easier to get out of an exercise routine than to get into! Glad the swelling is going down with

                Liked by 1 person

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