Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What is the Australian equivalent of the Edgar Awards?

Who's asking: Since the person asking this question needed to know in order to impress someone, I'd better not say

Australia's awards for excellence in crime fiction are called the Ned Kelly Awards. Ned Kelly (1855-1880) is Australia's national folk hero, the outlaw son of a transported Irish convict. Ned Kelly became the man of his family after his father's death, when Ned was only 11, and he robbed and stole to support his mother and seven siblings. He started to run with a bad crowd -- including his mother's second husband -- and faced constant prosecution (or persecution, depending on whom you ask). He turned to bank robbery and was eventually captured in a homemade suit of armor, in a confrontation with police that is now the stuff of legend.

He might have been forgotten -- or never particularly famous at all -- if not for a letter he dictated for publication to his comrade Joe Byrne in 1879. The Jerilderie Letter, as it is known, is considered a seminal piece of Australian literature; it lays out the injustices done to the Kelly family and, more broadly, to the Irish in Australia. It includes vivid descriptions of the crimes Kelly committed and the crimes he chose not to commit -- "I could have shot them without speaking but their lives was no good to me." The letter orders Kelly's enemies to "sell out and give P10 out of every hundred to the widow and orphan fund ... I am a widow's son orphaned and my orders must be obeyed."

Ned Kelly was hanged in November 1880, after a trial that received worldwide attention.

It's supposed to be a global marketplace, but it's hard to find Australian writers' works in American bookstores. For that matter, it's hard to find any non-American writers' works in American bookstores. Kevin Wignall discussed this at some length in a recent blog post, but I'll ask the question here: why is this?

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