16th December, 2020

The Book of the Year Award 2020: Winner Announcement

The Small Press Network is honoured to announce the winner of the 2020 Book of the Year Award is Forgotten Corners: Essays in Search of an Island’s Soul by Pete Hay, published by Walleah Press. The Book of Year Award aims to recognise some of the most ground-breaking books being produced by independent publishers today.

Find out more about this year’s winner — and explore the 2020 shortlist.

The BOTY 2020 judges Melissa Cranenburgh, Jane Rawson and Jackie Tang say of the Award:

The books we chose for the SPN Book of the Year shortlist all show – in their own, utterly unique ways – the extraordinary and never-more-necessary work of small press publishing. Each had a strength of voice, perspective, language and style that really exemplify what independent publishers can do to increase the range, complexity and diversity of Australian literature. And so it was a painfully difficult task to decide on a single winner. With that in mind, please consider that all of our shortlisted titles are remarkable. We congratulate the authors – and publishers – for creating these books. Go buy them. Read them. Tell your friends and family about them.

But, for us, one book truly captured the spirit of this award. Tasmanian poet Pete Hay’s Forgotten Corners: Essays in Search of an Island’s Soul is that thing all readers search for: an unexpected gem. A writer fully engaged with the complexities of their home state, without feeling parochial. A much-loved Tasmanian author who deserves much wider recognition. If there is a theme to this collection of 18 years worth of essays – Hay ponders in the preface – it is an exploration of ‘a certain grain within Tasmanian life.’ A ‘cleavage between those who see the island as raw material awaiting the uncaring inscription of capital… and those whose ways of acting within and understanding the island are driven by a pure, intrinsic love, and are, hence, unavoidably oppositional.’ There is no doubt that such ‘dissident’ thought is at the heart of this collection. But the great delight is Hay’s quiet mastery of the literary essay. Hay is thoughtful. Down-to-earth. Often self-effacing. His streams of self and societal reflection feel clear and refreshing even – or perhaps especially – while pulling the reader through treacherous currents. These essays are beautiful. They will stay with you. So, in this year of disconnection, we feel privileged to have the chance to shine a light on the work of writers and publishers from small presses around Australia. And to hand the inaugural SPN Book of the Year Award to Tasmanian author and poet Pete Hay and publisher Walleah Press.

From Ralph Wessman, Publisher at Walleah Press

I have described Pete as a poet and essayist and one of our country’s most respected environmentalists. I recall a conversation years past when Pete had suggested ‘I don’t write because I think I’ve profound truths that other people would benefit from having exposure to. I don’t write to provide anyone with answers, I write to provide people with dilemmas. My essays – even my poetry lately – are written to set up tensions that are ultimately not resolved. I explore the tensions, but I don’t conclude.’ Richard Flanagan wrote of Pete’s previous essay collection, Vandiemonian Essays, ‘All (these essays) are written with wit and without fear, with an erudition lightly worn, and with a pen dipped in a large love of this world. All can be read with both joy and curiosity…’ It’s Richard’s allusion to ‘joy and curiosity’, coincidentally, that I’d recommend as an approach to Pete’s current essay collection, Forgotten corners – that, along with an openness to being challenged, informed and entertained.

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