This is a reflection on the 2015 Express Media Awards by Raphaelle Race

This alluring scene (jam-packed with charismatic and interesting literary types) was the setting for the 2015 Express Media awards.

Now, “What is an Express Media Awards?” you may be asking. Well, for you unenlightened folk out there, Express Media is what lies behind the lauded youth-centric literary publications Voiceworks, Buzzcuts, The Under Age, and The Signal Express. The organisation is based out of the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne and works to support and advocate for young and emerging writers across Australia. 

This year’s annual Express Media Awards ceremony (sponsored this year by Australian publishing houses Hachette and Scribe) also celebrated Express Media’s 30th year in action.

I've often found that award ceremonies can be odd occasions, especially if you are attending as an interested observer rather than a nominee or their supporter. The ceremonies can often have a self-congratulatory element, which serves mostly to publicise the awards themselves, rather than the nominees. 

It came as a wonderful experience then that the awards and presentations at this year’s event were characterised by an astounding strength of community.

From the very beginning of the night, as Pippa Bainsbridge — Express Media’s new CEO — stepped up to talk about Express Media’s “energetic community” it felt like everyone in the audience was included in her address. Even as someone who feels like I still sit on the outskirts of the community, I genuinely felt part of the gathering and included in the network of young writers, readers and editors that makes Express Media such a fantastic organisation. Pippa presented awards for Outstanding Contribution for Express Media by a Volunteer to Samantha Taylor, Lucy Adams and Nicola Bryant, and thanked everyone involved in Express Media for their support in what has been a difficult year.

This year, the Australian literary community was rocked by the passing of writer, editor and activist Kat Muscat. To commemorate her achievements and contributions to the Australian literary community, the Muscat family have sponsored the Kat Muscat Memorial Fellowship. The inauguration of the fellowship was presented by Roz Muscat at the awards ceremony, who described the fellowship as “designed to continue the best of Kat’s work into the future, by others”. As she stepped down from her speech we clapped until our hands hurt, and many bowed their heads in a moment of memory. The fellowship of $3000 is open to all self-identifying women and will support artists with projects that work to challenge and defy cultural attitudes through language.

Part of the support that we try to provide in the Australian literary community comes in the form of recognition, awards, fellowships and residencies. The pursuits of writing, editing and reading can be incredibly solitary activities, and these moments of industry recognition have become entwined with our idea of being a part of the Australian literary community. It is important to note, however, that these should not become our measurements for success. It can be hard to remember that there are a great many successful artists out there who have never won an award, and who at times have struggled to find people who appreciate their work.

As part of a family with a history of mental health issues, and part of a wonderful thriving literary community that actively supports people with mental health issues, I believe that it’s important to be aware that thinking of 'recognition' as equivalent to merit can have negative effects. The idea that 'not having something’ makes you a lesser person is a very insidious and convincing lie.

This is not to take away from the fantastic work that has won prizes at the Express Media awards, but it is to say that that, as much as these awards signify a strong and supportive community, they also reflect the idea that those who weren’t nominated or those who ‘lost’ an award to another nominee, are somehow failing in the industry. We need to remind ourselves that if the Express Media Awards show us anything, they show that the strength and vibrancy of our community has become what it is because of the effort that every one of us has made. 

The Awards

Issue 102 of Voiceworks, titled Defiance in memory of Kat Muscat, was launched at the event in conjunction with the journal's yearly awards. This year’s Voiceworks awards went to:

  • Veronica Tran for Best Illustration
  • Madeleine Aritz for Best Comic
  • Dominic Symes for Best Poem
  • Myra Schlosberg and Paul Dalla Rosa for Best Fiction
  • Royce Kurmelovis for Best Non-fiction

The zine Signal Express gave its prize to Andrea Sidler for her article ‘The Young Adult Genre – As Seen from Part of its Target Audience’.

Kate Pentegast was awarded the prize from Buzzcuts review journal for her article ‘Crap Music Rave Party’.

Emma Ferris won The Under Age prize for journalism, awarded in conjunction with The Age, for the article: ‘What are today’s Young Female Athletes up Against?’ 

The John Marsden/Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writer of the Year awarded prizes in four categories:

  • Zoe Mcdonald, Under 18 Poetry Prize for 'Dead Birds and Egg-yolk-ambitions'
  • Zhi Wei Wang, Under 18 Fiction Prize for 'What Happens to a Family'
  • Phoebe Chen, Over 18 Poetry Prize for 'The Motions'
  • Madeleine Streater, Over 18 Fiction Prize for 'The Be All and End All'

The judges for an Outstanding Contribution by a Young Person in Literary Arts judges were unable to pick a clear winner from the excellent achievements of the top nominees, and so the prize was awarded to co-winners Ellen Van Neerven and Chloe Higgins.

And the Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers for emerging writers under the age of 30 was awarded to Patrick Mullins for his piece ‘A Liberal View’. The judges also gave out two Highly Commended awards to Zoya Patel for ‘Match Fixing: Arranged Marriage in Australia’, and Drew Rooke for ‘Machine Highs’. 

Photographs by Connor O'Brien and supplied by Express Media 
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Raphaelle Race is a professional writer and editor based in Melbourne. Her fun writing can be seen in Overland, Junkee, The Big Issue, Kill Your Darlings, Phantasmagoria and Feminartsy, among others. Like many others, she is writing a book.