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Priest lauded as she sets out to eulogise 'best Aussie poet of 20th century'

Priest lauded as she sets out to eulogise 'best Aussie poet of 20th century'

Published:17 March 2017

CQUni academic Ann-Marie Priest pictured at the announcement of the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship, during the Adelaide Writers' Festival.

CQUniversity academic and literary scholar Dr Ann-Marie Priest has gained a major fillip for her work on a biography of renowned poet Gwen Harwood.

Dr Priest is the 2017 winner of the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship, which was announced at the Hazel Rowley Memorial Lecture given by Maxine Beneba Clarke, during the Adelaide Writers' Festival in early March.

She will use the $15,000 Fellowship to continue her work on a biography of Gwen Harwood, whom she describes as Australia's best poet of the 20th Century.

Dr Priest was also highly commended for the Dorothy Hewett Award for her project ‘A Free Flame’, describe by the judging panel as “a compelling account of the careers of four notable Australian women writers: Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, Christina Stead and Ruth Park”. The book will be published by UWA Publishing.

One of the Fellowship judges, Jenny Hocking says Dr Priest's proposed biography is a "complex, multi-faceted study of a significant yet neglected subject".

“Her proposal deftly embraces the range of Harwood’s literary output, her use of various guises and masks and playful sense of identity, with a formal sophistication that is entirely appropriate to this intriguing subject.”

Dr Priest says she feels hugely honoured to have won the Fellowship as Hazel Rowley, who wrote four brilliant biographies, is one of her heroes.

"The Fellowship was set up by Hazel’s family and friends to commemorate her (she died unexpectedly in 2011), and one of their aims was to support writers in the research and development phase of a biography, knowing that for Hazel, this stage of a project was often the most difficult.

"It is a huge boost for me, both as affirmation for my project and in terms of the material support to enable me to travel and write.

"It was especially nice that the award ceremony was in Adelaide, at Writers’ Week. I grew up in South Australia and as a book-mad student in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Adelaide, I used to attend Writers’ Week whenever I could.

"Gwen Harwood, the subject of my biography, also used to go to Adelaide Writers’ Week around that time – as an honoured guest, of course, not a scrubby student! I don’t think I ever saw her there – she wasn’t on my radar then, unfortunately – but I like to think that I might have at least passed her in the crowd. She died in 1995, and by that time I had moved to Rockhampton.

"Gwen Harwood was a wonderful poet, the best Australian poet of the twentieth century, in my view, and I love her poems.

"She was also a most remarkable person, a woman who was highly unconventional in her thinking, even though her outward life seemed conventional enough.

"When she was older and famous, she looked like everybody’s grandmother, but she was actually very far from grandmotherly – sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued, brilliantly witty, playful and mischievous, full of passion.

"The biography is my major research project at the moment. I’ve been working on it for two years now, following work on A Free Flame, my project on Australian women writers and vocation – that sense of ‘calling’ to be a writer."

In another CQUniversity connection, the 2016 winner of the Hazel Rowley Fellowship, Matthew Lamb, who is writing a biography of Frank Moorehouse, is an alumnus of the University.