News & Commentary, Stage, Theatre

Leah Purcell’s ‘Drover’s Wife’ adds another big award to the cabinet

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Leah Purcell’s radical theatrical reimagining of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife has won the major prize at this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

In addition to winning the $30,000 Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting, the play picked up the $10,000 prize for Book of the Year. It’s the first play script to win the Prize for Book of the Year.

In the Judges’ comments, they describe the play as “Brutal, ruthless and utterly compelling”:

“Leah Purcell’s retooling of Henry Lawson’s story represents a seismic shift in postcolonial Australian playwriting. Once again we meet a drover’s wife, alone with her children in a harsh frontier landscape. But the snakes here are white, male and merciless. By placing two Indigenous characters at the heart of this version, the original is demythologised and subverted before being brilliantly remythologised.”

Heather Rose won the $40,000 fiction prize for her Stella Prize-winning The Museum of Modern Love, Thornton McCamish won the $40,000 non-fiction prize for Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead, and Peter Boyle won the $30,000 prize for Ghostspeaking.

In January this year, The Drover’s Wife won the $100,000 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, as well as Best Mainstage Production and Best New Australian Work at the Sydney Theatre Awards.

A film version of the play won Screen Australia funding earlier this year, and a national tour of the work is on its way.

The play takes Henry Lawson’s beloved short story of the same name and injects an Indigenous perspective back into the colonialist era that it covers.

Ben Neutze wrote in his review of the production:

“Just like Lawson, Purcell finds an unusual beauty in the harsh landscape and pays tribute to those who tackle its challenges. But writing from the perspective of an Indigenous woman, the experiences which shape this character, and the way she takes charge of her own destiny, are entirely new … Purcell has embraced the full violence and terror of Lawson’s frontier myth, as well as the violence and terror he never would have committed to words.”

NSW premier’s literary awards – WINNERS LIST

Read the keynote address from last night’s awards by Joanna Murray-Smith here 

Book of the year ($10,000)
Leah Purcell – The Drover’s Wife (Currency Press and Belvoir in association with Oombarra Productions)

Christina Stead prize for fiction ($40,000)
Heather Rose – The Museum of Modern Love (Allen & Unwin)

Douglas Stewart prize for non-fiction ($40,000)
Thornton McCamish – Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead (Black Inc.)

Kenneth Slessor prize for poetry ($30,000)
Peter Boyle – Ghostspeaking (Vagabond Press)

Patricia Wrightson prize for children’s literature ($30,000)
Leanne Hall – Iris and Tiger (Text Publishing)

Ethel Turner prize for young people’s literature ($30,000)
James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe – One Thousand Hills (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia)

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting ($30,000)
Leah Purcell – The Drover’s Wife (Currency Press and Belvoir in association with Oombarra Productions)

Betty Roland prize for scriptwriting ($30,000)
Joint winners: Shelley Birse – The Code, Series 2 Episode 4; Abe Forsythe – Down Under

The NSW premier’s translation prize ($30,000)
Royall Tyler

Multicultural NSW award ($20,000)
Maxine Beneba Clarke – The Hate Race (Hachette Australia)

Multicultural NSW early career translator prize ($5,000)
Jan Owen

UTS Glenda Adams award for new writing ($5,000)
Michelle Cahill – Letter to Pessoa (Giramondo Press)

People’s choice award
Nick Earls – Vancouver #3, from the series Wisdom Tree (Inkerman & Blunt)

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