SJ Norman awarded Peter Blazey 2023 Fellowship

SJ Norman. Image credit: Jake Terry for Vogue Australia.

SJ Norman has been awarded the 2023 Peter Blazey Fellowship. Image credit: Jake Terry for Vogue Australia.

SJ Norman, celebrated artist, writer and curator, has been awarded the 2023 Peter Blazey Fellowship. Presented annually, the Peter Blazey Fellowship recognises outstanding writers in the non-fiction fields of biography, autobiography and life writing. This year's Fellowship will support SJ Norman to further their second book, Skin in the Game.

In accepting the Fellowship, Norman said:

“I’m deeply grateful to receive the 2023 Peter Blazey Fellowship. The judging panel and list of previous recipients includes many writers whose work I respect, and I’m honoured to receive this recognition and support for my work. I am the second Aboriginal transgender author to receive this award, following on from EvN in 2019, and I want to acknowledge this continued support of queer and trans Blak stories and storytellers.  Skin in the Game will be work of lyrical auto-fiction, addressing queer and trans love and eroticism in relationship to the broader questions of social control, bodily sovereignty and identity. I’m interested in the mercurial circulations of power in the terrain of human and more-than-human relationships, and in the tensions between the body and prevailing structures of state power, labour economies and social institutions. The antagonists include (but are not limited to): the colony, the archive, the medical industrial complex, the carceral state, the institution of matrimony, international borders, the international art world, the sex industry, reproductive and socio-sexual legislature. I want to write about queer love and eroticism as a performance, as a transaction, as a ceremony, as a practice, as a sacred threshold, as a means of making and undoing worlds. I’m interested in how legacies of violence cohabit space with joy, resistance and desire. I’m interested in how soft bodies come into contact with hard power structures, and their many brilliant modes of evasion. This book will be a love letter to my own skin and to some of the people, places and systems that have left their marks on it.

I’m so grateful to receive this affirmation of my work as an early career writer, and this invaluable support to complete this ambitious and highly personal book. Making art is a precarious profession at the best of times, and the events of the last few years have pushed many creatives to breaking point: to receive this award during a time of such widespread struggle is an honour I accept with tremendous gratitude.”

The 2023 Peter Blazey Fellowship Committee, who selected Norman as the recipient, included Director of The Australian Centre Professor Sarah Maddison, 2021 Fellowship recipient Declan Fry, Screen and Cultural Studies Professor Chris Healy, donor Tim Herbert, and publisher Aviva Tuffield. The Committee was pleased to be able to support Norman in working on their next book, and said:

“Those who savoured Norman’s first book, Permafrost, have much to look forward to in this poetic, compelling and tough exploration of contemporary relations of grief and becoming. Norman’s is a voice that needs to be heard.”

The Peter Blazey Fellowship was established to honour the memory of Peter Blazey, journalist, author and gay activist. It has been made available through the generosity of Clive Blazey and Tim Herbert, brother and partner of Peter Blazey.

Three exceptionally talented authors received special commendations this year:

Barbarella Karpinski 

A lively and entertaining memoir by Barbarella Karpinski stood out for the distinctiveness of the narrative voice and the vividness of the writing. Combine those elements with Karpinski’s longstanding role in Australia’s LGBQTI subcultures, including as a 78er (one of those involved in the first-ever Sydney Mardi Gras march), as a striptease and performance artist, and as a journalist and reporter of queer life, and this work shows great potential and cultural importance.

Brooke Maddison

Brooke Maddison’s You are the Story is an affecting and cleverly structured essay about the author’s relationship with their adopted son. It is attuned to the narratives that structure our lives – the material constraints of race, citizenship, borders, blood, kinship, and class. It blends this awareness with a self-reflexive attitude toward narrative and its limitations, the ways in which stories can be told and can reflect on their own telling. It offers a reflection on the nature of devotion, being a parent, and of coming to understand more about one’s own life through that of another.

Rebecca Beirne 

A promising new voice, Rebecca Beirne’s boldly confessional memoir Not Otherwise Specified navigates an unusual Western Sydney childhood where parental control in a fraught external environment shaped by religious cults and family services produces a disturbing, sharply observed and darkly ironic narrative. The work meticulously examines the complexities of mental health, trauma, medicalisation and societal stigma in a unique and compelling way.

See the full citations and list of past winners on the Faculty of Arts website.

More Information

Susanna Ling