The winner of the prestigious Patrick White Literary Award for 2010, worth $18,000, is David Foster, the celebrated novelist. The purpose of the Award is to promote Australian literature and to recognise and encourage creative writers.
Susan Wyndham, Literary Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, wrote: “White would be ambiguously pleased that Foster has won the Patrick White Literary Award, the honour he set up – also in 1973 – with his Nobel prize money for authors who have made a significant, but inadequately recognised, contribution to Australian literature.
Foster, who can be almost as grouchy as his late patron, accepted the $18,000 award in Sydney yesterday, saying White had intended it ”as a kind of literary loser’s compo”. (Sadly for Foster, the economic slump has reduced the prize money from $25,000 in previous years.)”
Foster told The Sydney Morning Herald: ”I have recognition enough, at the top end of town, to feel I’m not utterly wasting my time. ‘I will continue to write novels for as long as I can get them published. ‘It’s not all about money. As Australian writers with an eye to foreign sales cannot afford to deal with topical Australian themes or the Australian vernacular, this leaves the field open to me. I sometimes feel I have it to myself.”
Foster, 66, is the author of more than a dozen novels, as well as non-fiction works, poetry, novellas and numerous essays, stories, radio plays and scientific papers. His latest novel is Sons of the Rumour (Picador 2009), while his previous novels include In the New Country (Fourth Estate 1999), The Glade Within the Grove (Fourth Estate 1996), Mates of Mars (Vintage 1991), Testostero (Penguin 1987) and Moonlite (Macmillan 1981).
Much of Foster’s work is satiric and comic, and has attracted praise for its originality and daring. In their citation about the winner, the judging committee said David Foster is considered by many to be one of the most stimulating and even provocative of contemporary Australian novelists, mining a rich imaginative vein that may be traced back to the fiction of Joseph Furphy.
After his first novel, The Pure Land (Macmillan 1974), attracted critical attention and won the Age Book of the Year Award, his work has continued to receive acclaim, including the Miles Franklin Award for The Glade Within the Grove and a Keating ‘National Treasure’ Fellowship in the 1990s.
However, given Australia’s relatively small book-buying literary readership, and the uncertain tradition of the satiric in this country, Foster’s writing life has been financially constrained, with the result that he has needed to work in other jobs – truck-driving, postal delivery and labouring. Before writing fiction, he qualified as a research scientist and holds a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the Australian National University. He is also a black belt in taekwondo and has been a motorcyclist and jazz drummer.
David Foster’s work is the subject of a recent book by critic Susan Lever, who has described him as ‘the most original, challenging, contradictory, risk-taking and infuriating Australian novelist of his generation’ (David Foster: Satirist of Australia 2008). Adopting a line from Vladimir Nabokov, Lever remarks that Foster has that ‘originality of literary style which constitutes the only real honesty of a writer’.
Praise for Sons of the Rumour (2009)
‘Brilliant and insightful’ The Australian
‘Foster’s masterwork’ The Australian Literary Review
‘Sons of the Rumour is a tour de force’ The Sydney Morning Herald
‘A work of great and confident Australian literature … truly to be cherished’ The Age
‘In its command of its material and its sheer vitality, Sons of the Rumour represents an extraordinary addition to Foster’s already remarkable oeuvre. Attempt to characterise his writing and eventually one will run out of adjectives. There is simply no one remotely like him in contemporary Australian fiction. Foster has never been reluctant to announce the fact that he believes his work to be superior – that he is operating on a creative and intellectual plane inaccessible to most novelists – which is shamelessly egotistical of him, but he’s right.’ Australian Book Review
Established by Patrick White following his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, and managed by Perpetual as trustee of the philanthropic trust behind it, the Patrick White Award has been given to authors who, in the opinion of the judging committee, have made a significant but inadequately recognised ‘contribution to Australian literature’. Poets, novelists, playwrights and short story writers have been among the 37 who have so far benefited from Patrick White’s generosity. Past recipients have included Christina Stead, Bruce Dawe, Janette Turner Hospital, Tom Hungerford and Thea Astley. The judging committee’s current members are Dr Debra Adelaide, Professor David Carter and Dr Michael Costigan.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.