Adelaide author Philip Butterss has won the prestigious National Biography Award for what judges have described as a long overdue book about Australian poet CJ Dennis.
An Unsentimental Bloke: The Life and Work of CJ Dennis was published last year by Wakefield Press and announced as the 2015 winner of the $25,000 prize at an event at the State Library of NSW yesterday.
Adelaide University lecturer Butterss’s book reveals the personal and literary struggles and successes of Dennis, from his childhood in South Australia to a successful writing career during which he penned more than 3000 poems. It also traces his struggles with depression and alcoholism.
Dennis is best known for his 1915 classic The Songs of the Sentimental Bloke, pocket copies of which were sent to Australian soldiers during World War I, and its sequel, The Moods of Ginger Mick. He also worked as a journalist and editor, and expressed strong political views through his writing.
The National Biography Prize judges said An Unsentimental Bloke was meticulously researched but also very readable. They described it as a “forensic work of recovery” about a writer who was once Australia’s most popular poet but who had been “almost forgotten”.
“CJ Dennis was an extraordinarily successful poet whose books were in every home, although he has now fallen out of fashion,” NSW state librarian and chief executive Alex Byrne said in a statement.
“His rhymes and wry humour, his take on Australia’s growing cities were repeated by all with smiles on their faces.
“This new biography, An Unsentimental Bloke, will restore his prominent place in Australia’s rich literary landscape.”
Butterss completed a PhD on Australian ballads at the University of Sydney and now teaches Australian literature and film at Adelaide University. He also edited another book published last year, Adelaide: A Literary City, which comprises essays exploring the city’s literary scene from the 19th century to the present – including a chapter by Buterss about CJ Dennis.
A total of 72 entries were received for the 2015 National Biography Award. The shortlist also comprised Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815, by Philip Dwyer; Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family, by Gabrielle Carey; To Begin to Know: Walking in the Shadows of My Father, by David Leser;, A Singular Vision: Harry Seidler, by Helen O’Neill, and The Feel-Good Hit of the Year: A Memoir, by Liam Pieper.
Click here to read InDaily’s review of An Unsentimental Bloke: The life and work of CJ Dennis.
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