By now the news is likely to be known. But for those of you who are still in the dark, Forgotten Corners has just won the Small Press Network’s 2020 Book of the Year! (Here is the SPN’s announcement and judges’ statement). I’ve known for a few days now, but was under the thumb of an embargo. In fact, even the announcement of the short list was embargoed for a period. And just as it was lifted, and I was on the verge of posting the good news, I was informed that I’d won, and I was back under an embargo.
I’m over the moon. As a dedicated champion of small press publishing, there’s not a single award in Australian literature I’d swap for this one. All power to the Small Press Network, then – long may it prosper. This is the way of the future, I think. With the book as a physical artefact under threat from developments in the digital world, it is the small publishing sector that has the requisite flexibility, and the requisite economy of scale – these being, paradoxically, downscaled economies – to keep the book, this beloved physical item, alive and well as we head into an unhinged future. In large part this is because small presses can cater to specialised, focused demand – geographically and socially specific demand – and that is the key, I think, to future resilience.
I would be passionate about small press publishing, though, even if there were no economic imperatives at play. Because, in a globalising world, what is most at risk are those crucial ties to local place and local biophysical distinctiveness that make for a marvellous world of richness and variation. I would only want to live in such a world. I would only want to live in a world with a cornucopian abundance of lifeforms – and these would, necessarily, require geographically specialised environments. Niche specificity. And I would only want to live in a world of abundant cultural diversity – a world of linguistic, artistic and folkloric richness. As against the looming spectre of cultural greyness – uniformity of architecture, lingo, cultural product, and even technology – such that the entire world becomes a variation on Indianapolis, or Smallville.
The large publishers, in my view, are unwitting participants in that cultural greying. Whereas small press publishing does the opposite. It valorises place and cultural particularity, and, in the doing, is a force for the maintenance of wonder in the world, and not the dismal homogenisation creeping ever closer.
For many years my own publisher at Walleah Press, Ralph Wessman, has supplied the key literary infrastructure of the island at the end of the earth. He merits all good things that come his way. Forgotten Corners owes its award to Ralph, who entered the book in the first place (I’m not much of a one for entering literary awards). So thanks Ralph, my dear old mate. Just now I’m remembering the time Ralph got Flanagan and Hay hideously drunk, then taped us as we argued incoherently about the rival merits of two types of potato! (Hint: Bismarks won.) All is officially forgiven Ralph!
At the virtual event late yesterday afternoon I might not have made the best choice of what to read, but it wasn’t the worst choice I could have made, either. A tad too cerebrally demanding – an undemanding but entertaining story might have better fitted the bill, and there are plenty of those in Forgotten Corners. Concerning which, if you haven’t already read it, please do – on behalf of my badly misunderstood island.
And here I leave you with some forgotten corners of the island. Click to view larger images.