How the book she didn’t want to write earned Sarah the most bittersweet victory of all

She’s recognized as one of Australia’s leading poets and Sarah Holland-Batt is thrilled that she has now been recognized at home with a big win in the Queensland Literary Awards, writes Phil Brown


Sep 07, 2023, updated Sep 07, 2023
Author and poet Sarah-Holland Batt been claimed the main event at this year's Queensland Writer's Festival.

Author and poet Sarah-Holland Batt been claimed the main event at this year's Queensland Writer's Festival.

It’s the book Sarah Holland-Batt wished she didn’t have to write but The Jaguar has captured the nation’s heart and has won her another major literary award. And this one is special because it is a home-ground win with Holland-Batt taking out the top prize at the 2023 Queensland Literary Awards at the State Library of Queensland.

Holland-Batt’s poetry collection about the death of her father, Tony, from Parkinson’s disease won the $25,000 Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance.

The Jaguar, published by our own UQP, also won the prestigious $60,000 Stella Prize in April, is a moving tribute to her father and a book of accessible poems that has been lauded by critics and general readers alike.

It seems fitting that our premier poet should win the Premier’s award and Holland-Batt, who is Professor of Creative Writing at QUT, says she is thrilled even though it is a bittersweet victory.

“I have said a few times that it is basically the book you wish you didn’t have to write,” Holland-Batt says. “But there’s something lovely about that poignant experience resonating with people. When I wrote the book, I wasn’t sure it was something people would want to read about.

“It’s really beautiful and surprising and thrilling that a book of poetry has won this award.”

And it’s the first time that has happened. The Queensland Literary Awards judges statement described The Jaguar as “a moving exploration of family dynamics, ageing, memory, desire, nature and art combined with a passionate rage about our care of our elders. It is a hopeful and optimistic call for change.”

And those elements of the book put it firmly in the category of a winner.

Stella Prize chair Alice Pung praised the collection earlier in the year as a demonstration of Holland-Batt’s ability to write about death “as tenderly as we’ve ever read about birth”.

“Her imagery is unexpected and unforgettable and often blended with humour,” Pung wrote in her judge’s statement.

Winning the Stella was huge but topping the bill at the Queensland Literary Awards is very special too for a poet who lives in Brisbane and who spent part of her childhood on the Gold Coast before the family moved to the US for some years.

She attended Benowa State Primary school and St Hilda’s School at Southport and in her early Gold Coast years she drew inspiration from her father’s books and art collection. Her mum Jenny, who still lives at Sorrento on the Gold Coast, was in Brisbane to see her daughter win yet another award.

Sarah Holland-Batt says Queensland has a great tradition of producing great poets including Judith Wright and David Malouf.

“It’s interesting that David Malouf has actually retired to the Gold Coast,” she says. “It’s a place of ugliness and great beauty and I have written about the coast a lot. It’s a great subject.”

She also paid tribute to her publisher, UQP, which has been leading the way in publishing poetry for decades from Brisbane.

A total of $238,500 in prize money was awarded across 12 categories at the Queensland Literary Awards held Wednesday night, September 6.

Gudanji/Wakaja woman Debra Dank won $15,000 for the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award for We Come with This Place which according to the judges “takes us into the world of her childhood, into her family and onto her country”.

Another of the big prizes The University of Queensland Fiction Book Award for $15,000 which went to Queensland author Alexis Wright for her book Praiseworthy. A number of Queensland Writers Fellowships were awarded including one to local poet B.R. Dionysius for a collection of narrative poetry inspired by the inland ocean that occupied much of Queensland 110 million years ago.

Arts Minister Leeanne Enoch says the awards “celebrate the depth and diversity of Australian literary talent and continue to grow Queensland’s reputation as a leader in the national and international literary landscape”.

At the awards ceremony a few people noted that it was just over a decade ago that the incoming Premier Campbell Newman’s wrecking ball canned the Premier’s Literary Awards. But the literary community wasn’t having that and clawed back the awards with the government coming back on board as a major sponsor and the State Library of Queensland stepping in to manage the awards in collaboration with sponsors, industry partners and the writing community.

State Librarian and CEO Vicki McDonald says “now more than ever we need authors in our lives who help us connect to stories that matter and keep us curious about our world”.

For the full results of the Queensland Literary Awards


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