Melbourne based screenwriter, novelist and one of Australia’s most successful playwrights on the international stage, Joanna Murray-Smith, has won the inaugural Mona Brand Award for Women Stage and Screen Writers which was presented in a ceremony at the State Library of NSW on 7 November 2016.
Joanna was awarded the $30,000 prize for her extensive body of work comprising over 15 published plays which have been performed in Australia, London, on Broadway and many other countries in numerous languages. Her recent work includes “Switzerland” which premiered as part of Sydney Theatre Company’s 2015 season and was performed in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2016 season, as well as the hugely successful comedy opera miniseries, “The Divorce” that screened on ABC TV in 2015.
Senior judge Kim Williams AM, Chairman of the State Library of NSW Foundation, said “The judges are pleased to shine a spotlight on Joanna Murray-Smith, one of our most widely produced playwrights whose international success is insufficiently celebrated in Australia. The quality and breadth of Joanna’s work and its wide international uptake and endorsement are deserving of her being the inaugural recipient of the Mona Brand Award.”
A second award, that recognises fresh new talent, was presented on the evening. The Mona Brand Emerging Writer Award, which carries a $10,000 prize, went to “Cleverman” actor Jada Alberts for her first produced play “Brothers Wreck”. The judges also Highly Commended writer and director Billie Pleffer for her screenplay “Baby Baby”.
The Award’s patron, Australian actor and director Robyn Nevin AM, unfortunately was unable to attend the award ceremony but commented in a video address “It is an honour and privilege to represent this marvellous initiative for women writers thanks to the generosity of the late Mona Brand and the State Library. This significant prize money might make a huge difference to the lives of these particular women, the discipline is significant, the struggle is significant, and money matters!”
Acting NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive, Lucy Milne commented “As the custodian of Mona Brand’s literary papers, the State Library is pleased to administer and present this award that not only honours the rich legacy of Mona Brand, but celebrates the best of contemporary writing for stage and screen by Australian women.”
The Mona Brand Award for Women Stage and Screen Writers will be presented biennially and is the only award of its kind in Australia. It was made possible by a generous bequest to the State Library of NSW Foundation by the late Mona Alexis Fox nee Brand (1915– 2007). This trailblazing Australian playwright also wrote under the name of Alexis Fox. Mona Brand was a formidable playwright, writing nearly 30 plays, as well as an accomplished poet, author and social activist who was better known overseas than in Australia.
In 2002 the Library acquired Mona Brand’s papers, which include professional and personal correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, photographs, sound and video recordings as well as many other records from her remarkable life and career.
Sandra Tiltman Photos: John Pond