The shortlist for Australia’s most prestigious biography prize was announced yesterday.

The shortlisted titles are:

  • Battarbee and Namatjira, Martin Edmond (Giramondo)
  • Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam’s Beijing Envoy, Stephen FitzGerald (Melbourne University Publishing)
  • Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather, Karen Lamb (University of Queensland Press)
  • Mannix, Brenda Niall (Text Publishing)
  • Bearing Witness: The Remarkable Life of Charles Bean, Australia’s greatest war correspondent, Peter Rees (Allen & Unwin)
  • Reckoning: A Memoir, Magda Szubanski (Text Publishing)

“If it can be said of biography that it’s mostly about dead white males well then, consider our shortlist – they’re not all dead, they’re not all white and they’re not all male,” said Chair of the judging panel, Dr Peter Cochrane.  Although, to be accurate, I think he should have made it clearer that the subjects are mostly dead, mostly white and mostly male. Oh well, half of the authors are women – that’s a step forward.

With the 2016 award attracting a record number of entries, Dr Cochrane also commented that the judges were “impressed and dazzled by the quality and range of entries, confirming that biography is alive and well in Australia and the genre is thriving.”

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting interview with Dr Cochrane, which outlines the judging process:

As chairman of the judging panel for the National Biography Prize, Cochrane and his fellow judges, critic Rosemary Sorensen and historian Richard White, read 110 entries. They included 15 biographies of artists and writers, 11 of politicians, eight about migrants and refugees (three of them African), seven military subjects, and 15 he defined as “misery lit or inspirational memoir”.

And then goes on to discuss to discuss the merits of each book on the shortlist.

A total of $31,000 will be awarded with the winner of the Award receiving $25,000 and each shortlisted author receiving $1,000 in recognition of their achievement.

The winner will be announced on Monday 8 August at 11am at a special free event at the State Library of NSW.