Past winners of the Woollahra Digital Literary Award
Here are highlights of the 2021 Woollahra Digital Literary Award Winners Announcement.
Warning: some of the winning works include adult content and explicit language.
Fiction: Katerina Cosgrove, Zorba the Buddha
Judge's comments: ‘Zorba the Buddha’ by Katerina Cosgrove is an imagined history of the spectacular destruction of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s spiritual movement—known popularly as the “Orange People”—as he and his followers flee controversy and mayhem at their failed ashram in Oregon in the United States and attempt, unsuccessfully, to set up a new utopian community on Crete, while in hiding from the CIA and FBI. Just as Cosgrove explores the interaction between the Rajneeshis and an unyielding state apparatus, she also delves into the intimately-realised and fictionalised relationships of the guru and his acolytes. Never succumbing to simple explanations or judgements, this extraordinary novella animates and illuminates an era of spiritual searching that inspired hope and venality in equal measure.
Non-Fiction: Yen Pham, In the Penal Colony
Judge's comments: The winning entry was compelling and forceful. Pham examined colonial Australia’s incarceration narratives leading to multi-layered and devastating sub-contracting for detention centres both on and offshore, and how the normalisation of these processes and attitudes explain the nation’s carceral response to COVID-19. It was deeply researched and drew together many arguments to present a clear picture of our national failures.
Poetry: Dan Hogan, We're Processing Your Direct Debit
Judge’s comments: From the title, I was hooked. Dan Hogan’s exquisite lines and digital dexterity collide in this dazzling poem that tilts the reader on their axis, sweeps them up into the poem’s own weather system before catapulting them like a controlled scream through the chaos of their world. Through the narrator’s robotic sounding voice, I am pulled by the poem’s centrifugal force into what feels like a video game of my own life unfolding on the screen, while I eat ice cream that never does anything and watch the wheels of my world fall catastrophically off. The brilliantly perfect randomness of some of these lines–– Trumpet like a mop along the linoleum before it’s too late (in 4K) and Gather that for which you’re known (flavoured milk?)––left me in a spin. This poem moves, mesmerises, terrifies, inspires and strangely comforts, because somehow Dan Hogan has seen into my soul and written down what was there. This poem urges us to reject modernity and embrace traditional meta-modernity, before adding, Just kidding. Peel a mandarin, pocket the skin. This poem stuns. And I’m rendered speechless by it.
Digital Innovation: David Henley, The Collapse
Judge's comments: I spent the bulk of my career in book publishing. As part of that job I had to evaluate thousands of stories, often with not much time or even that much content at hand. It isn’t always easy to do but I learned that my innate response to a piece of work was my best guide. I had an instant and very positive response to The Collapse by David Henley. As a reader, I understood what I had to do and the innovative elements included with the story aided my appreciation and enjoyment of the work. The idea that new digital technologies can be employed by writers presents them with a new balancing act. How do they introduce the right digital enhancements, ones that aid the reading experience, that support and expand the experience of imagining or understanding a story? David managed this very well. Sound, imagery, graphics and animation were harnessed to propel the story forward. They were appropriate for the genre of the piece and there was evidence of restraint, which I appreciated. The innovative aspects were relevant and exciting and seamlessly part of the story.
Readers’ Choice Award: Heidi Sfiligoi, I Am Water
The 2021 Woollahra Digital Literary Award recognises outstanding digital writing by Australian authors with the following shortlisted for this year’s prizes in four categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry and Digital Innovation.
Warning: some of the shortlisted works include adult content and explicit language.
- Understanding Almost Nothing of the World by James Hughes
- Good Long Time by Jon Tjhia
- Zorba the Buddha by Katerina Cosgrove
- Apologia by Michalia Arathimos
- Female(s and) Dogs by Brooke Dunnell
- Mudbricks Don't Burn by Felicia Henderson
- Fucking old white men: on Raven Leilani's Luster by Madeleine Gray
- Let the Yolk Drip Down by Alison Whittaker
- Coming of Age in Cabramatta by Sheila Ngoc Pham
- 'If You're Different Are You the Same?': The Nazi Genocide of Disabled People and Les Murray's Fredy Neptune by Amanda Tink
- True to Form: A.E. Stallings, Jenny Xie, Ada Límon by Felicity Plunkett
- In the Penal Colony by Yen Pham
- Twenty Two One Lines Poems by Amanda Anastasi
- We're Processing Your Direct Debit by Dan Hogan
- FW: FW: “IM FALLING OUT OF THE SKY PLEASE RESPOND by Carly Stone
- The Horizon by Hannah Jenkins
- Cheat Codes by Jason Nelson
- Meditation on the Body by Zenobia Frost
Digital Innovation Shortlist
Here are highlights of the 2020 Woollahra Digital Literary Award Winners Announcement.
The following winners of the 2020 Woollahra Digital Literary Award were announced on Thursday 28 May 2020.
Warning: some of the winning works include adult content and explicit language.
Fiction: Peter Polites, The Final Boys
Judge's comments: Haunted and haunting, Peter Polites' The Final Boys is a complex exploration of diaspora, nostalgia, and sexuality. It offers an intimate glimpse into the unnamed narrator's world, where violence, tenderness, silence, and restlessness agitate and elevate each other. This isn't a short story about voyeurism: Polites writes voyeurism itself.
His intelligence is subtle as he guides the ever-shifting gazes throughout the story - the mother's over horror movies; the narrator's over men; older men, security cameras, and authority figures over the 'wog boy'. But Polites reveals his genius when he at last directs the reader's eyes from the evocative prose onto themselves, demonstrating the terror of a hungry gaze that finally stops.
Non-Fiction: Amanda Tink, A History of Reading: Alan Marshall and Helen Keller
Judge's comments: Amanda Tink’s powerful A History of Reading blends personal essay with literary history. Challenging the standard conceptualisation of the work of Helen Keller, Tink reappraises the works of the Australian memoirist and storyteller Alan Marshall, exploring what his work has meant to her own life and writing.
Tink is a personable narrator here, mixing detailed research and history, while creating new pathways to accessing the work of writers with overlooked legacies. She actively reframes and reshapes the thinking of the reader on disability politics and Australian literature in subtle, shifting ways. This is critical thinking, made real on the page, of the very highest order.
Poetry: Omar Sakr, Where I Am Not
Judge’s comments: While this poem does not use the digital medium as part of its poetics, it does that rare thing only exceptional poems can do: cracks a moment open like an egg, and lets the whole world spill out. In 'Where I am Not' Sakr manages to frisk a brief, intimate conversation in an uber trip for everything it’s got: pasts, imaginings of the future, desires and assortments of feeling.
It is an apt poem for the digital age, where the world has been made smaller, displacements greater, and even love and care have been sub-contracted to the gig economy.
Readers’ Choice Award: Mez Breeze, Perpetual Nomads
Judge's comments: Mez Breeze’s Perpetual Nomads explores loneliness, paranoia, and privacy in the digital age. Using virtual reality, Perpetual Nomads innovates how narratives can look.
Featuring engaging character work from sketchy online personas to too-friendly corporations, Mez Breeze opens up possibilities for storytelling through digital mediums.
- Jackie French, Christmas in Paris, HarperCollins Publishers. A free copy is available to read via Overdrive with Woollahra Libraries membership.
- Mez Breeze, Perpetual Nomads, FLEFF: Networked Disruptions Online Exhibition
- Peter Polites, The Final Boys, Meanjin
- Rachel Ang, A Thousand Loving Thrusts, The Wheeler Centre
- Tamara Lazaroff, In My Father's Village and Other Freedom Stories, Pollitecon Publications
"The standard of entries for the non-fiction category in the WDLA this year was incredibly high – so high that determining a shortlist was an unusually difficult task. Non-fiction writers have challenged themselves to think deeply and critically about the world around us, in a time when such thinking is needed more than ever. Here, in the settled shortlist, we find profound new thoughts on topics as wide and varied as disability as a literary category, the recent terrifying bushfire season, the industry around Australian native food, and many more, including reflections on legendary Australian artists such as Vernon Ah Kee and Nick Cave. Australian arts and literary magazines supporting digital first publications deserve to be commended too for the essential role they play in developing and fostering such work." – Sam Twyford-Moore
- Amanda Tink, A History of Reading: Alan Marshall and Helen Keller, Sydney Review of Books
- Andrew Brooks, The Island Part One and Part Two, Running Dog
- Drew Rooke, Growth Industry, Kill Your Darlings
- Dženana Vucic, Kin, Kill Your Darlings
- Eleanor Limprecht, The Burning, Meanjin
- Jocelyn Hungerford, Women Who Write About Their Feelings and Lives, Sydney Review of Books
- Keyvan Allahyari, The Trouble With Middle Eastern Literature, Sydney Review of Books
- Mark Mordue, Down By The River: Nick Cave’s Boyhood in Wangaratta (1959-70), Sydney Review of Books
- Sarah Allely, Brain on Nature, Brain on Nature
- Shannon McKeogh, The Cure For Everything, Meanjin
"This year saw an increase in submissions from poets experimenting with what the digital medium has to offer in terms of form, as well as more poems about the digital augmentation of contemporary life. We also saw more poems about fluid identities as well as slippages in time and language. It was very difficult to whittle the submissions down to a shortlist, but the poems I’ve selected showcase something of the range of styles that are made possible by the digital space." – Pip Smith
The following winners of the 2019 Woollahra Digital Literary Award were announced at Woollahra Library at Double Bay on Thursday 30 May 2019.
Fiction: Rachel Ang, Toot Toot
Judge’s comments: In Rachel Ang's “Toot Toot”, a run-in with an ex turns her protagonist's otherwise banal train trip into an emotional vivisection that transforms the landscape. Her protagonist moves from acting out on her jealousy to realising that these behaviours are as comforting as they are self-destructive to, at last, moving on, all of which is facilitated by Ang's concise writing, deft visual storytelling, and eye for detail. 'Toot Toot' offers storytelling that is vivid and specific, honest and illuminating. In excavating the journeys both on which we embark on a daily basis, Ang unsettles the familiar and skilfully makes familiar her protagonist's psychological landscape.
Non Fiction: Fiona McGregor, The Hot Desk: Working Hot by Mary Fallon
Judge’s comments: Fiona McGregor’s retrospective account of the publication and reception of Kathleen Mary Fallon’s little known 1989 novel Working Hot is a rich work of literary archiving and activism. This is far more than an account of a single (and singular) text – “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do a blow by blow exegesis,” McGregor assures us – as it captures a long history of intersections between Australian publishing and queer culture, while both positioning the book within global literature and documenting McGregor’s early and formative reading practice. Centering and prioritising quotes from Mary Fallon, McGregor writes with both political fire and an urgent comic vernacular. “The Hot Desk: Working Hot by Mary Fallon” is an exemplary and enlightening essay, one which demonstrates that literary criticism can be, and often is, at the forefront of forging new ways of writing non-fiction within digital spaces.
Poetry: Jason Nelson, Nine Billion Branches
Judge’s comments: The spaces “Nine Million Branches” by Jason Nelson encourages us to interact with the everyday: a shopping mall, a bedroom, a lounge room, a computer screen dizzy with words - but he uses the rabbit-warren-like structures of the web to direct our gaze in ways only possible in poetry, and online. Tiny details are circled in crude red pen, drawing us in to contemplate a quilt, an ear, an escalator. Once clicked on, the screen zooms in to a short poem, or shifts our gaze to see this object in a new way. The tone of his poem is cheeky and playful, as is the awkward, even sometimes ugly visual aesthetic. "Nine Billion Branches” by Jason Nelson has a distinctive voice, and is like nothing I have engaged with online before.
- Rachel Ang, Toot Toot, Going Down Swinging
- Alexander Bennetts, Osaka, Short Australian Stories
- Ashley Kalagian Blunt, My Name is Revenge, Spineless Wonders
- Rivqa Rafael, The Day Girl, Escape Artists
- Jonno Revanche, Step on Me, Seizure
Non Fiction Shortlist
- Evelyn Araluen, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in the Ghost Gum, Sydney Review of Books
- Rebecca Giggs, The Leech Barometer, Granta
- Eda Gunaydin, Gothic Body, in Two Parts, Voiceworks
- Dan Hogan, Shitposting the Pain Away (Or All the Cars I Have Owned), Meanjin
- Fiona McGregor, The Hot Desk: Working Hot by Mary Fallon, Sydney Review of Books
- Kate Osana Simonian, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Stalker, Shenandoah
The following winners of the 2018 Woollahra Digital Literary Award were announced at Woollahra Library at Double Bay on Thursday 31 May 2018.
Non Fiction: Eloise Grills, Diary of a Post-Teenage Girl
Judges comments: ‘Eloise Grills’ series of graphic journal entries for Scum Magazine, published over a twelve-month period, thrive on digital intimacies expressed through a combination of comic art and social media screen shots. Grills is a master of both the visual form and narrative memoir. Her confessions – and they are confessions – are heartfelt and honest. Grills effectively explores demanding contemporary medical practices, alongside the comfort and complexity to be found in relationships. Her diarised contemplations – pushing the personal essay form to its limits – are equally internal and outward looking, engaging with how to live, and develop as an individual, in a busy, chaotic time.’
Fiction: Stephen Wright, A Second Life
Judges comments: ‘Reading Second Life is like watching yourself be dreamed by another. The landscapes of this novella are familiar but disjointed, jumbled, and heavy with surplus associative meaning. The protagonist is, oddly and inexplicably, a real New York punk writer and artist exhumed and given new life in a northern NSW village. In Second Life Wright explores the liminal space between sleeping and waking; fiction writing, memory and dreaming. This novella is like no other I have encountered, though at a stretch it is slightly reminiscent of Ben Lerner’s 10:04, in that at the deep heart of the novella, the protagonist is displaced and renamed; another dreamlike version of herself. Second Life is also reminiscent of Twin Peaks, in that it abides by no logic other than the logic of dreams. Second Life offers a challenging but rewarding reading experience; rich with philosophical insight and magical lyrical turns.’
Short Fiction: Jane Rawson, Lake
Judges comments: ‘In this seamless and masterfully concise horror story, a woman finds herself living at the bottom of a lake. Cleverly playing with the device of the double, Rawson takes a bold premise to satisfying extremes.’
To mitigate a conflict of interest, the Short Fiction winner was unanimously selected by all three judges.
The judges of the 2018 Woollahra Digital Literary Award selected the following shortlist of 14 entries, out of 99 entries received:
- Ria Andriani, Seeing Through Perspective: A Blind Tourist’s Guide to Art, Overland
- David Carlin, Lyrebirds in the Impasse, Sydney Review of Books
- Shu-Ling Chua, Through the Looking Glass, Meanjin
- Alex Griffin, Brown Cardigan McGuires You: Mainstream Memelords, The Libertarian Laugh, and How to End Things With a Joke, Not a Whimper, The Lifted Brow
- Eloise Grills, Diary of a Post-Teenage Girl - Scum Magazine
- Jennifer Mills, Seventy-Two Transformations - Sydney Review of Books
- Vince Ruston, We Really Need You Tonight, Kill Your Darlings
- Fiona Wright, Perhaps This Will Be My Last Sharehouse - Sydney Review of Books
- Kate Simonian, Le Problem Being, Chicago Tribune
- Lachlan Walter, The Rain Never Came, Amazon ebook
- Stephen Wright, A Second Life, Brio ebook
Flash and Short Fiction
The following winners of the 2017 Woollahra Digital Literary Award were announced at Woollahra Library at Double Bay on Tuesday 27 June 2017.
Non Fiction: Vanessa Berry, Excavating St Peters
Judges comments: 'Timely, political, historical, and lucid.'
'Vanessa Berry is an expert tour guide of a Sydney whose lost history is buried just beneath its shiny, new surfaces. In 'Excavating St Peters', Berry roams a misunderstood suburb, giving lyrical depictions of a kind of beauty that others might see as banal, and, in the meantime, gives a documentary-like take on political protests against over-development. This is nonfiction writing of the highest order.'
Fiction: Melissa Bruce, Picnic at Mount Disappointment
Judges comments: 'A verse novel that charmed in a matter of stanzas. Surprising character development, witty and original observations, honest representation of a prickly teen trying to find her place between worlds. A very enjoyable read.'
- Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Bad Writer
- Vanessa Berry, Excavating St Peters
- Sam George-Allen, I Put A Spell On You
- Rory Kennett-Lister, Terrain: An Exploration in Two Parts
- Suneeta Peres da Costa, A Home in Ananda and the World
- Matthew Thompson, Night Swimming in Dungog
- Tanya Bird, The Royal Companion
- Melissa Bruce, Picnic at Mount Disappointment
- Nick Earls, Gotham
- Richard Tardif, The Washing Away of Blood
- Ariella Van Luyn, Bulldozer
- Danielle de Valera, Dropping Out: A Tree Change Novel-in-Stories
- Sharon Willdin, Legacy of the Female Factory