Current Issue #488

For a group of Adelaide philanthropists, the value of supporting Australian literature is as clear as MUD

Shane Reid
Adelaide Writers’ Week

MUD Literary Club is an Adelaide philanthropic group that raises funds to present Australian authors at leading literary festival – the only private philanthropic group in Australia providing financial support for home-grown literature.

MUD sticks to Australian authors. In truth, it needs to. Now entering its ninth year, MUD’s quirky nature and muddled acronym belie the group’s serious ambitions that have grown with the creation of the annual MUD Literary Prize, identifying the best first literary novel by an Australian author.

Announced as a part of Adelaide Writers’ Week, this modest $3000 award is gaining traction in Australian literary circles. Last year it presented Trent Dalton with his first award for the best-selling novel Boy Swallows Universe, after attracting more than 30 entries.

The MUD prize also signals that some support is at hand for writers crafting serious literature in Australia. Having so far raised more than $150,000 to sponsor Australian authors, MUD is now building a perpetual fund to ensure the award can offer a larger annual prize purse as true encouragement for fledgling literary novelists. MUD is seeking to build an intended $250,000 fund under the umbrella of the Adelaide Festival Foundation, from which a significant annual prize can be drawn each year – a legacy that will endure as MUD continues to flourish and build its membership.

“It started from such a simple idea, and it’s been quickly embraced as something very significant,” says MUD chairman Tony Parkinson. “We have a good time presenting authors at intimate fundraising lunches, and seeing them present at the festivals in Adelaide and at Ubud (Bali) – and everyone is thrilled that it has formed genuine strong relationships between the MUD members and the authors we’ve supported. MUD is valued and is valuable.”

Lyndon Mechielsen
Brisbane author and journalist Trent Dalton received the 2019 MUD Literary Prize for his novel Boy Swallows Universe

It was always intended to be this way, from the moment Penny’s Hill Wines boss and former advertising hotshot Parkinson pulled together a committee that could shape MUD Literary Club. The name was a play on the phrase Mates of Ubud, because Parkinson wanted to offer financial assistance that could support the literary endeavour of his friend Janet deNeefe, the Melbourne-born creator of the Ubud Writers and Readers’ Festival. A sudden withdrawal of corporate sponsorship by an international bank had left the festival teetering on the brink of collapse, and Parkinson saw a need for reliable philanthropic support to form a solid funding plank for the festival.

Beyond this idea, the inaugural MUD committee argued that another great literary festival existed on our doorstep, and insisted that equal funds be directed towards Adelaide Writers’ Week, aware that monetary assistance is necessary for this to remain one of the world’s great free literary festivals.

So MUD emerged in 2012 with a dual purpose, and has since sponsored the appearance of a leading Australian author and an emerging Australian author at both events each year.

The longlist of more than 40 “MudMates” who have enjoyed this sponsorship and appeared at MUD fundraising events is impressive – including Richard Flanagan, Thomas Keneally, Hannah Kent, Frank Moorhouse, Kate Grenville, Richard Fidler and Markus Zusak. More importantly, these writers appreciate that MUD represents a crucial new link between readers, authors, publishers and literary festivals.

Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch (centre) received funding from the MUD Literary Club to appear at the 2019 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival
Wirasathya Darmaj / Ubud Writers & Readers Festival
Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch (centre) received funding from the MUD Literary Club to appear at the 2019 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

“MUD is like nothing else in this country, and the simple fact that it exists – that people care about Australian literature and stand up to support it – is a blessing,” says author Richard Flanagan, who has been sponsored by MUD and has been guest speaker at a MUD literary lunch fundraiser.

When current Adelaide Writers’ Week director Jo Dyer arrived in June 2018, she admits to being somewhat baffled by this odd group of individuals offering cash and seeking access to leading authors for their fundraising events. The relationship between MUD and Adelaide Writers’ Week had formed and solidified under her predecessor Laura Kroetsch, who recognised that this group provided valuable energy, impetus and resources. Dyer quickly concurred and is now among MUD’s most ardent supporters.

“People in Adelaide love Writers’ Week but the bigger picture reveals that support for literature in this country is pretty thin,” she says. “It’s impressive that a group of individuals have come together to form a group like MUD. There’s no other philanthropic group focused solely on supporting Australian literature. They’ve played a leading role in promoting Australian writers and, on top of that, the events they stage are tremendous fun!”

MUD is now gearing up for its busiest time of the year. In addition to organising the panel of five who are judging this year’s literary prize – which will be announced and presented at an Adelaide Writers’ Week session on Monday 2 March – MUD will also be presenting one of its two major fund-raising literary lunches, at Penny’s Hill winery in McLaren Vale, on Sunday 1 March. The event’s guest author is Christos Tsiolkas, Celebrated writer of The Slap, Barracuda and Loaded, who will speak with Laura Kroetsch about his new novel Damascus.

“We’re all about authors and books, but MUD certainly isn’t your standard book club,” says Parkinson, arching an eyebrow. “Good wine, good food, good people, good discussions – our events offer a rare peek behind the curtain, to reveal what makes our great writers tick, and that’s something every MUD guest has found fascinating.”

David Sly is a committee member of MUD and one of five judges in the MUD Literary Award 2020

David Sly

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