Rozanna Lilley shortlisted for 2019 National Biography Award!

Powerful memoirs by debut authors and compelling personal stories of incredible women have been shortlisted for the 2019 National Biography Award, the richest prize in Australia for biography and memoir writing, the State Library of NSW announced TODAY [Wednesday 26 June 2019].  


The shortlisted works are:

  • Do Oysters Get Bored? A Curious Life by Rozanna Lilley (UWA Publishing)
  • Miss Ex-Yugoslavia by Sofija Stefanovic (Penguin Random House Australia)
  • No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani, translated Omid Tofighian (Picador Australia)
  • One Hundred Years of Dirt by Rick Morton (Melbourne University Press)
  • The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein (Text Publishing)
  • The Wasp and the Orchid: The Remarkable Life of Australian Naturalist Edith Coleman by Danielle Clode (Picador Australia)


Senior Judge, Margy Burn commented: “The six outstanding writers on the 2019 shortlist bring finely tuned thinking and writerly capacities to life writing. Memoir and autobiography are strongly represented and none of these exceptional works could be described as traditional biography.


The judges comments on Do Oysters Get Bored? -

A finely observed reflection on the complexities of family relationships, aptly subtitled a curious life. Rozanna Lilley is the mother of an autistic son, Oscar, and the daughter of eccentric libertarians whose parenting left her own childhood “carelessly broken”. The book takes the form of a series of loosely linked essays and concludes with 44 intensely personal poems, truly poetry as memoir. The stories of Lilley’s childhood and her own parenting are beautifully and gently integrated. She reflects on caring for Oscar and her father, who is suffering from dementia, with tenderness and sensitivity. The recounting of her sexual abuse as a teenager is searing but restrained as Lilley carefully examines the long impact of childhood trauma.  

As a parent who has become a researcher on autism and child development, having first trained as an anthropologist, Lilley’s observations are informed and acute. The writing is poetic, subtle and nuanced. While clear about the difficulties and demands of raising a child with special needs, Lilley writes with tenderness and humour of the many pleasures and delights her beloved Oscar brings to family life.


“This year’s shortlist features five ‘debut’ titles,” said Ms Burn. “The judges were struck by the many compelling entries from younger writers experimenting with life writing. It bodes well for the future of Australian life writing, if issuing a challenge to conventional biography.”


The National Biography Award has a total prize pool of $42,000. The prize winners will be announced on Monday 12 August 2019 at a champagne breakfast event at the State Library of NSW.

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