During a career of longer than 50 years, Chris Wallace-Crabbe has published dozens of books of poetry, essays and criticism, and taught the next generations of poets and writers at universities around the world.
Now he can add the prestigious (and lucrative) Melbourne Prize to his professional and creative accolades. Wallace-Crabbe was awarded the $60,000 prize at a ceremony last week. The Melbourne Prize is awarded each year on a rotating basis to one of three art forms: music, sculpture and literature. The latter, says Melbourne Prize director Simon Warrender, recognises the: “Very strong literary tapestry in Melbourne, with lots of different threads.”
Wallace-Crabbe has been recognised for his contribution to broader literary culture, but is aware his hometown of Melbourne has a special literary community.
“I have always felt that my writing of poetry is an intimate part of the wide arts of language, which are central to the very existence of Australian culture,” he says. “Even as I get older and grumpier, I feel I'm in the team with my fellow writers, in Melbourne, in modern Europe and in the world, present and past. We are a motley team of players.”
Of the five writers shortlisted for this year’s Melbourne Prize, Wallace-Crabbe is the only one known primarily for poetry. The other shortlistees included biographer Brenda Niall, and novelists Steven Carroll, Christos Tsiolkas and Alexis Wright.
In recent months, there has been robust debate among the literati as to whether Australian poetry receives the critical and commercial coverage it deserves. Wallace-Crabbe’s win is recognition of the cultural value and importance of poetry. He is optimistic about the form’s present and future. “Poetry is thriving,” he says, “but too many people are scared of it, or don’t recognise that they like it.”
Poetry, he says, is a medley of arts that: “Goes all the way from Shakespeare and Gwen Harwood to slams, jingles, folk songs, bush ballads, limericks and even opera.”
Two other awards were also announced at last week’s award ceremony: Andrea Goldsmith won the $30,000 Best Writing Award for her novel The Memory Trap; and Kate Ryan won the $20,000 Writers Prize for her essay “Psychotherapy for Normal People”.
According to Warrender, the Melbourne Prize for Literature reflects the city’s abiding love for creative work. “There is a huge public desire to support the arts in Melbourne and Victoria,” he says.
Readers are invited to engage with the writing of the finalists in each category, on show at Federation Square until November 23 as part of an exhibition celebrating the prize.
See the Melbourne Prize website for more details.