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Commonwealth Writers Prize
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  • 'The Commonwealth Foundation established the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1987 to encourage and reward the upsurge of new Commonwealth fiction and ensure that works of merit reach a wider audience outside their country of origin. The Commonwealth Writers Prize is managed by Cumberland Lodge at the invitation of the Commonwealth Foundation and in association with Booktrust.'

    The prize was awarded in two categories: Best Book and Best First Book. Regional winners are selected from four areas: Africa, the Caribbean and Canada, Eurasia, and the South East Asia and South Pacific. Overall winners are then chosen from the regional award winners.

    In 2011, the Writers Prize was replaced by the Commonwealth Book Prize. The change coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

    (Source: The Commonwealth Writers Prize website,

Latest Winners / Recipients (also see subcategories)v1483

Year: 2010

winner (Best First Book) y separately published work icon Siddon Rock Glenda Guest , North Sydney : Vintage Australia , 2009 Z1553911 2005 single work novel

'"When Macha Connor came home from the war she walked into town as naked as the day she was born, except for well-worn and shining boots, a dusty slouch hat, and the .303 rifle she held across her waist."

'Macha patrols Siddon Rock by night, watching over the town's inhabitants: Brigid, Granna, and all of the Aberline clan; Alistair in Meakin's Haberdashery, with his fine sense of style; Sybil, scrubbing away at the bloodstains in her father's butcher shop; Reverend Siggy, afraid of the outback landscape and the district's magical saltpans; silent Nell with her wild dogs; publican Marg, always accompanied by a cloud of blue; and the new barman, Kelpie Crush.

'It is only when refugee Catalin Morgenstern and her young son Josis arrive in town that Macha realises there is nothing she can do to keep the townspeople safe.' (From the publisher's website.)

Year: 2009

winner y separately published work icon The Slap Christos Tsiolkas , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2008 Z1739894 2008 single work novel (taught in 40 units)

'At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.

'This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event.

'In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye onto that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.

'What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity - all the passions and conflicting beliefs - that family can arouse. In its clear-eyed and forensic dissection of the ever-growing middle class and its aspirations and fears, The Slap is also a poignant, provocative novel about the nature of loyalty and happiness, compromise and truth.' (Publisher's blurb)

Year: 2006

winner y separately published work icon The Secret River Kate Grenville , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2005 Z1194031 2005 single work novel historical fiction (taught in 69 units)

'In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.

'But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.

'Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals - Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring - are finding their own ways to respond to them.

'Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.

'Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a groundbreaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.' (From the publisher's website.)

Winner of the overall prize.

Year: 2005

winner (South East Asia and South Pacific Region) Best Book y separately published work icon The White Earth Andrew McGahan , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2004 Z1113518 2004 single work novel (taught in 14 units)

'His father dead by fire and his mother plagued by demons of her own, William is cast upon the charity of his unknown uncle - an embittered old man encamped in the ruins of a once great station homestead, Kuran House. It's a baffling and sinister new world for the boy, a place of decay and secret histories. His uncle is obsessed by a long life of decline and by a dark quest for revival, his mother is desperate for a wealth and security she has never known, and all their hopes it seems come to rest upon William's young shoulders. But as the past and present of Kuran Station unravel and merge together, the price of that inheritance may prove to be the downfall of them all. The White Earth is a haunting, disturbing and cautionary tale.' (publisher's website)

winner (South East Asia and South Pacific Region) Best First Book y separately published work icon Home Larissa Behrendt , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 2004 Z1113719 2004 single work novel (taught in 10 units)

'A story of homecoming, this absorbing novel opens with a young, city-based lawyer setting out on her first visit to ancestral country. Candice arrives at "the place where the rivers meet", the camp of the Eualeyai where in 1918 her grandmother Garibooli was abducted. As Garibooli takes up the story of Candice's Aboriginal family, the twentieth century falls away.

Garibooli, renamed Elizabeth, is sent to work as a housemaid, but marriage soon offers escape from the terror of the master's night-time visits. Her displacement carries into the lives of her seven children - their stories witness to the impact of orphanage life and the consequences of having a dark skin in post-war Australia. Vividly rekindled, the lives of her family point the direction home for Candice.

Home is a ... novel from an author who understands both the capacity of language to suppress and the restorative potency of stories that bridge past and present.' (Source: Publisher's blurb)

Year: 2004

winner (South East Asia and South Pacific Region) Best Book y separately published work icon The Hamilton Case Michelle De Kretser , Milsons Point : Random House , 2003 Z1022070 2003 single work novel crime historical fiction 'Having come of age on the island nation of Ceylon, Sam Obeysekere is a lawyer whose life is guided by the British culture that dominates his homeland. Educated at Oxford, with a dazzling career in his sights, Sam is more English than the English. Only his flamboyant, unruly mother, exiled to a jungle estate, reminds him of his family's real heritage and a different set of home truths. Sam's undoing arrives in the form of the Hamilton case, a scandalous murder that shakes the upper echelons of island society. Guided by grandiose visions of Sherlock Holmes, he becomes convinced he can solve the mysterious case - and that his good standing with the English will insulate him from the unrest the case has exposed. In the end, Sam grapples with a life that has been "a series of substitutions," the darkest of human misfortunes.'--BOOK JACKET.

Works About this Award

Awards 2012 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 24 May 2012; (p. 15)
A Pair of Ragged Claws Stephen Romei , 2011 single work column
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 12 - 13 March 2011; (p. 19)
Colonial Prize 'An Amusement' Stephen Romei , 2011 single work column
— Appears in: The Australian , 3 March 2011; (p. 8)
A Pair of Ragged Claws Stephen Romei , 2011 single work column
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 26-27 February 2011; (p. 19)
A column canvassing current literary news. Discusses the Vogel Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Undercover Susan Wyndham , 2011 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 19-20 February 2011; (p. 31)
A column canvassing current literary news including a report on the shortlists for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Susan Wyndham also notes the decision by Finch to not award the Finch Memoir Prize in 2011; the judges stated that 'while several of the shortlisted manuscripts successfully met some of their criteria, none fulfilled them all'.