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Maxine Beneba Clarke wins Hazel Rowley Fellowship

Maxine Beneba Clarke was announced as the winner of the 2014 Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship at the Writers Victoria Salon last night.

Clarke will use the $10,000 fellowship to work on Part Two of her proposed autobiography, ‘The Hate Race’ – a memoir about growing up black in white middle-class Australia.

“Amid a rich field of applicants, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s clear, powerful voice commanded our attention,” said Janine Burke, one of the judges of the fellowship. “Her story fearlessly explores a fresh perspective on ethnicity in Australia with humour and energy,” she said.

Fellow judge Jim Davidson added that “Maxine Beneba Clarke writes with such vividness that she makes being on the receiving end of racial prejudice in Australia real and tangible.”

The fellowship will allow the Caribbean-Australian writer to ‘go back to where she came from’ – to travel from Australia to England re-tracing her parents journey, from England to the Caribbean re-tracing her grandparent’s migration, and from the Caribbean to Africa in search of the ancestors transported to the Caribbean as slaves.

“The opportunity to research and re-trace my family’s migration path will not only be momentous on a personal and emotional level, but will, I hope, result in a work of non-fiction which significantly contributes toward contemporary post-slavery dialogue on race, migration, colour, ancestry, genocide, and the various places we think of as home,” Clarke said. “I will set foot in my parent’s birthplaces for the first time and set out in search of family land lying dormant in Jamaica and Guyana. The Hazel Rowley Fellowship will make this life-changing journey, and my documentation of it, a reality.”

In 2013, Clarke won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript with her debut short story collection, ‘Foreign Soil’ (to be published by Hachette Australia in May 2014). Clarke is also the author of the poetry collections ‘Gil Scott Heron is on Parole’ and ‘Nothing Here Needs Fixing’, as well as being an Australian slam poetry champion.

Now in its third year, the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship was established to encourage Australian authors to attain a high standard of biography writing and to commemorate the life, ideas and writing of Hazel Rowley. In the space of just four books, Rowley established herself as one of the world’s leading literary biographers before dying suddenly in 2011.

Mary Hoban was awarded the inaugural Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship in 2012 for her biography of Julia Sorell. The 2013 Fellowship was awarded to Stephany Steggall for her biography of Thomas Keneally. Clark’s project was selected from a shortlist that included projects by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan (Vic), Rodney James (Vic), Ruth Starke (SA), Warren Ward (QLD), Michelle Potter (ACT), Nadia Wheatley (NSW) and Sylvia Martin (NSW).

The prize was judged by Janine Burke and Jim Davidson, who both spoke at The Biography Salon, along with Hazel’s sister Della Rowley and Hazel’s friend Lynn Buchanan.

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