For 15 years, S. Shakthidharan – Shakthi – was asked the same question by an uncle: “When are you going to get a real job?” He should have been a lawyer, even a doctor. Instead, he was in community arts, the founder and artistic director of Sydney’s CuriousWorks.
Nevertheless, that uncle was in the audience when Counting and Cracking, Shakthi’s four-generation saga of a Sri Lankan-Australian family, had its premiere at last year’s Sydney Festival. “He came to the opening and was the first person to stand up and applaud when it finished,” Shakthi said, “and he hasn’t asked me to get a real job since. That’s how I know that they (my family) are proud.”
They have more reasons to be proud now. Shakthi and associate writer Eamon Flack, artistic director of Belvoir Theatre, have won Australia’s richest writing prize, the Victorian Prize for Literature, worth $100,000, for Counting and Cracking. It is the third time in the past five years that a play has won the prize. Shakthi and Flack also received the Premier’s drama prize, worth another $25,000. Shakthi was associate director of the play and said he and Flack had worked closely on the production for more than five years.
Other awards presented by Premier Daniel Andrews were: fiction, Damascus, Christos Tsiolkas; non-fiction, Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, Christina Thompson; poetry, Nganajungu Yagu, Charmaine Papertalk Green; and young adult, How It feels to Float, Helena Fox. Rhett Davies won the $15,000 unpublished manuscript award for Hovering, and Chloe Higgins the $2000 people’s choice award for The Girls.