A night to remember for Bram

May 2, 2018 by Henry Benjamin
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Melbourne author Bram Presser has won three prizes in the NSW Premier’s 2018 Literary Awards.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Bram Presser

Presser took the $40,000 Christine Stead Prize for Fiction for his novel “The Book of Dirt”.

He also received the UTS Glenda Adams Award for new writing ($5,000) and The People’s Choice Award.
The publisher’s notes: ‘They chose not to speak and now they are gone…What’s left to fill the silence is no longer theirs. This is my story, woven from the threads of rumour and legend.

Jakub Rand flees his village for Prague, only to find himself trapped by the Nazi occupation. Deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, he is forced to sort through Jewish books for a so-called Museum of the Extinct Race. Hidden among the rare texts is a tattered prayer-book, hollow inside, containing a small pile of dirt.Back in the city, Františka Roubíčková picks over the embers of her failed marriage, despairing of her conversion to Judaism. When the Nazis summon her two eldest daughters for transport, she must sacrifice everything to save the girls from certain death.

Decades later, Bram Presser embarks on a quest to find the truth behind the stories his family built around these remarkable survivors.

The Book of Dirt is a completely original novel about love, family secrets, and Jewish myths. And it is a heart-warming story about a grandson’s devotion to the power of storytelling and his family’s legacy.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said: “The NSW Government is committed to supporting writers and literature. Through their exceptional talent for story‐telling and research the 2018 winning writers have delivered outstanding literary works which provoke critical thought as well as entertaining us.”

J-Wire remembers criminal lawyer Bram Presser leading his punk band Yidcore. He took out of his busy schedule following the awards to talk to J-Wire.
JW: Is this the first major literary prize for The Book of Dirt?
BP: Yes. The book has been well-received and well-reviewed, but it’s been off the prize radar thus far. I just assumed I wasn’t part of the Australian literary prize conversation which is totally fine. We don’t write books to win prizes. So when it was shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, I was quite shocked. And in a shortlist of books that I love, too. I didn’t really rate my chances but just to get this far was amazing. Then on the night when I won not only the Christina Stead Prize but also the UTS Glenda Adams Award for Best New Writing and the People’s Choice Award I was completely blown away. I won’t be forgetting that night in any hurry.
JW: What does it mean to you emotionally?
BP: More than anything it feels like a validation of me as a writer and a vindication of the eight years I spent writing The Book of Dirt. It was a really difficult book to write; it ripped me to shreds along the way and I finished it completely emotionally drained and physically spent. For a long while I didn’t think I’d even get there. Add to that the fact the book is so intensely personal, it has been incredibly heartwarming to see readers connecting so meaningfully with these people who I loved and have hopefully honoured on the page.
JW:  Is writing taking over from music?
Yeah, music isn’t really more than an occasional hobby these days. I still do the odd guest spot on other people’s projects but I’m not working on anything myself. I never say never, but for now I’m loving writing and have a bunch of ideas I’m keen to work on so music is something I listen to more than create.
JW: Are other books formulating in your head?
BP: I have a few ideas floating around that I’ve been having a little play with lately. A couple are in a similar vein to The Book of Dirt in terms of form (though not topic) and then there are some more that are straight fiction. I’m waiting to see which of the various ideas begins to take proper form then lock down in my studio and write it. Books are organic creatures – they take on lives of their own. Whichever it is, though, I hope won’t take eight years like the last one.

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