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Author quits as Horne judge over rule changes

24 September 2018 No Comment

By Justin Burke

Celebrated author Anna Funder has quit the judging panel for the Horne Prize for essays, after rule changes were made banning entries about the experiences of Aborigines, gay people and other minorities without the writers belonging to these respective groups.

Funder, who won the Miles Franklin Award in 2012 for her work of fiction set in Nazi Germany, told The Australian the judges weren’t consulted in advance about the controversial changes to the $15,000 award.

“I really disagreed with them, and I felt like a lot of my work would be disqualified, and I can’t really be judging a prize where my qualifications for doing so are ruled out of bounds,” Funder said.

The criteria changes were made by Erik Jensen, editor of ‘The Saturday Paper’ which sponsors the prize. Jensen said he was trying to reduce the number of essays that were “chauvinistic or condescending accounts” of particular groups, especially indigenous Australians. Yesterday he also told The Australian: “The judges of The Horne Prize — David Marr, Anna Funder, Marcia Langton and Suzanne Santos — had not been made aware of the guidelines for the prize. Nor was my proprietor, Morry Schwartz.” Mr Jensen declined to confirm whether any other judges had resigned, but is said to be redrafting guidelines and extending the prize’s deadlines.

Funder said that the idea of these “prescriptions” spreading into fiction prizes was unthinkable, and defended the rights of writers to engage their curiosity with the world around them. She added that she understood where Mr Jensen was coming from, but thought the new rules were “extremely misguided”.

“I’m interested in the world, including in particular people who are underdogs, or haven’t had much of a voice, or who were being swept under the big beige carpet of history,” Funder said.

“I am not them, I don’t speak for them, but I can, in a small, piecemeal and partial way, make them visible.”

The turmoil for the prize, named after legendary journalist and writer Donald Horne, comes amid outcry that the rule changes represented “political correctness gone mad”.

Historian, author and critic Ross Fitzgerald said Horne had been a huge influence on him.

“Horne would have found this situation absolutely ludicrous,” Fitzgerald said.

“It is so typical of the absurdities the intellectual classes are foisting on the general public; it is self-defeating and Orwellian.”

Others, such as last year’s Horne Prize winner Kerryn Goldsworthy, saw the rules as the expression of common sense.

“I think they are absolutely fair. With non-fiction you have an important responsibility not to represent experiences you haven’t had, or things you don’t know first-hand about,” she said.

“I think they are absolutely fair enough and I would abide by them. Though fiction is an entirely different situation, I don’t think any rules should apply to fiction.”

The Australian, September 24, 2018, p 3.

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