Last week we put the spotlight on Paul Dalla Rosa, this year’s youngest shortlisted writer, and the Award's first Australian shortlistee (although this year we were delighted to also have had Australian writer Paddy O’Reilly on the longlist). If Paul wins, he will be the Award’s first ever Australian winner.
However, he is not the first writer from the Southern Hemisphere to have been shortlisted for the prize in the last decade – or indeed to have won. In fact, he joins two outstanding writers from New Zealand on the list of the Award’s prestigious alumni: CK Stead (whose recent interview you can read here), who was shortlisted in 2010 and then went on to win the inaugural prize, and Paula Morris, who was shortlisted in 2015.
The Award is proudly international, and honoured to have writers from this part of the world become part of its legacy. To mark Paul’s place as the Award’s first Australian shortlisted writer, and the successes of other antipodean authors, we asked Paul to shine a light on his favourite Australian and New Zealand short story authors. Please read below, where he picks his top 5 authors, and recommends work from each.
Nam Le – “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” from The Boat (Australia)
So many great writers have written praise of Nam Le, writers like Mary Gaitskill, Helen Garner, Peter Carey, that I feel I can’t really add much. His blurbs use words like ‘extraordinary,’ ‘tremendous,’ ‘genius,’ ‘heartbreaker.’ It’s a lot, but it’s also true. My favourite story in The Boat is “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice.” It’s set at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and follows a character, not unlike Le, having to write his final story, when his father comes to visit. He suffers from writer’s block. He decides he’ll write a piece of “ethnic lit,” as a friend tells him, “You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing,” retelling his father’s experiences as a survivor of the My Lai Massacre. It’s subtle and complicated and somehow Le expands the form.
Ellen van Neervan – “S & J” from Heat and Light (Australia)
Ellen van Neervan is a young Mununjali writer and part of a strong wave of contemporary Indigenous Australian authors writing today. I first came upon her work with the story “S & J” published in McSweeney’s #41 back in 2012. That story was then deservedly anthologised in The Best of McSweeney’s as well as collected in her debut story collection Heat and Light. I still have a soft spot for that first story—“S & J”—, the story of a queer Indigenous woman in Exmouth, a friendship that’s maybe more than a friendship, a grunge concert, and a German backpacker that says, ‘Tell me everything…Tell me about your hardship.’ Her stories have a strength and intelligence, while often grappling with the contradictions inherent in this country. Her stories are poetic and raw and are at the forefront of what Australian writing might and can be.
Christos Tsiolkas – “Porn 1” from Merciless Gods (Australia)
Tsiolkas is maybe known internationally for his novels, The Slap, Barracuda. I like his short stories, especially ‘Porn 1’ from Merciless Gods. A mother goes into an adult store, walks to the gay section and comes out with a porno wrapped in a brown paper bag. At home, while her husband’s out, she shuts the curtains, deadlocks the front door, takes the phone off its hook. She watches the tape. On the screen is her son. I don’t want to say more. It sounds melodramatic, writing this, but it’s beautiful.
Abigail Ulman – “The Pretty One” from Hot Little Hands (Australia)
Abigail Ulman’s stories remind me of Balthus paintings, girls and women and all the states in between, lying in repose, wanting. It’s something dangerous. It radiates. “The Pretty One” is my favourite story in the collection. I don’t know if it’s objectively better than the others, but it’s the one I feel closest too. Claire, a film graduate student, gets a crush on a freshman and starts dating him. He’s beautiful. She tells her students about him. She goes on dates. She gets black out drunk. She says things when she’s drunk. She then says the things don’t count if she’s drunk. It’s messy but it’s about a time when things are messy. It’s about figuring things out.
Janet Frame – “Prizes” from Prizes: Selected Short Stories (New Zealand)
Janet Frame, a New Zealand writer, is singular. ‘Prizes’ as a recommended story seems apt. It opens with the line, ‘Life is hell, but at least there are prizes.’ But even that isn’t so simple. You can actually listen to it read by a 2018 Sunday Times shortlisted author, Miranda July, on the New Yorker Fiction podcast. It doesn’t really have a plot, it’s just a voice. A woman makes an account of the prizes she’s won, that she wants them, that when she gets them, they mean nothing. She’s funny. She’s devastating.