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Anna Funder’s Miles Franklin acceptance speech

While she wasn’t able to accept her award in person, 2012 Miles Franklin winner Anna Funder gave the following acceptance speech by video, arguing that literary prizes ‘provide signposts as to quality when it can be hard, in a bewildering topography of culture—high and low, in print and on-screen and in the fractured online world—to sort the enlightening and soul-feeding from the 50 Shades of momentarily gratifying’:

This is a huge honour. I am more grateful than I can properly say. I thank Miles Franklin, for scrimping and saving, and for having the generous vision to endow this prize. I thank the Trust, and the judges. I thank my publisher at Penguin, Ben Ball, and Meredith Rose, Anyez Lindop and Gabrielle Coyne there for their passionate support of this book. I thank my agent Sarah Chalfant, whose strength and loyalty and commitment to literature are a plumbline to truth for me. So much so, that when I think about Sarah, I write better.

Most of all I thank my husband Craig Allchin. For the five years I worked on this book he never let on any doubt. He never asked me whether I had any plans—near or far—to contribute to the household income. He seemed mysteriously to know when to sympathise with my so-called problems, facing what I thought of as a huge mountain, and when to roll his eyes and tell me it was a molehill, and I should just get over it, and get on with it. Like any big prize, at some level there is no way you can deserve such luck.

Goethe said, long before Germany’s catastrophic 20th century, that ‘Nations, like human beings, are unaware of the workings of their inner nature, and ultimately we are surprised, even astounded at what emerges.’

It is up to writers of all kinds to examine the inner workings of the nation, and of the human beings in it.

When you read a book, if it is good enough you think, ‘But I thought that! That is my experience.’ Even when it is patently not—it’s the experience of a girl growing up in Brindabella, or of Johnno in Brisbane, of a woman who will throw herself under a train in 19th century Russia. Or it is of a gutsy Australian at the League of Nations, or a noble, hardscrabble horse-farming family in NSW, of brave children in makeshift, jigsaw families Victoria and Tasmania.

This fusing of mind and soul with strangers is what fiction, the art form that is most personal, most interior permits us. Fiction helps us understand what it might be like to be another. It makes us understand that we are different. And also, that we are the same.

This faculty of empathy is the essence of our humanity. Like any faculty, it needs exercise. Without writers, our inner lives, as well as the inner life of the nation would remain opaque to us. Our sense of ourselves would be flabby, or shriveled, and our society fractured and shallow, vulnerable to manufactured fears and noisy jingoisms of every stripe.

I seem to have made my life’s work so far in examining places where writers were banned. It didn’t go well for them—not the writers, nor the places. 

The Miles Franklin recognises fiction. Only fiction allows a writer to step into someone else’s consciousness and represent it; only fiction truly allows itself metaphors of the large and small kind—something IS something else and we see it more clearly, a story IS a story about one thing, but stands for so much else. Abolishing writers’ awards is a cost-cutting measure, but also a step towards the unscrutinised exercise of power.

Prizes like this one are important to writers, but they are not necessary:  we would keep writing without them, as writers do in many countries where they are banned. But prizes are very important to the nation. They show that free speech is alive and unbeholden to government, or to media barons. And they provide signposts as to quality when it can be hard, in a bewildering topography of culture—high and low, in print and on-screen and in the fractured online world—to sort the enlightening and soul-feeding from the 50 Shades of momentarily gratifying.

Tonight we celebrate fiction. We celebrate our joy and wonder at the inner workings of our nation, and ourselves.  We celebrate by holding our mirror—all our disparate mirrors—up to this world; to its beauty, its mysteries, its cruelties:

To babies who besott us and one-armed bandits who fleece us;

To fat mining magnates and fleet-footed Opposition leaders;

To floor-crossers and cross-dressers;

To re-tried Dingos;

To photographers and pornographers;

To streetpeople and shockjocks;

To footballers—and fading, fork-tongued feminists;

To stolen children and newly discovered planets;

To Pygmy people and human mules;

To cloud-seeding, to coke-snorting racehorses;

To islands drowning and children being born;

To being left, to being found;

To stopping time.

Writing is a work of ingenious empathy. It is work of compassion as holy as any we are likely to find. We can’t afford not to have it.

I wish I were there with you. Have a wonderful evening. Take notes.



Category: Features