Norma K Hemming Award fail

About the Award
Norma K. Hemming in costume in 1956.Norma K. Hemming in costume in 1956.

The Norma K. Hemming Award marks excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability:

  • in the form of science fiction and fantasy or related artwork or media.
  • produced either in Australia or by Australian citizens.
  • first published, released or presented in the calendar year preceding the year in which the award is given.

The Australian Science Fiction Foundation (ASFF) launched this major new award at Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention held in Melbourne on 2–6 September 2010.

The Award will not necessarily be given annually, and a selection will only be made if there is a work that meets an appropriate standard of excellence.

Norma K Hemming Award fail

The shortlisted works for 2014 are here. I’m not saying these works aren’t worthy; I am saying a very important novel has been overlooked.

Jo Spurrier, an author with experience of disability, wrote a book, Black Sun Light My Way, sequel to Winter Be My Shield. I interviewed Jo about her first novel; we discussed the sociological groups in her trilogy and disability.

Winter Be My Shield was shortlisted for the Norma K Hemming Award in 2013; it didn’t win because that year the award was given to Kate Forsyth for Bitter Greens and Margo Lanagan for Sea Hearts.

Both of the winning books are worthy novels but neither should have pipped Winter for the prize. Both winning authors are highly respected; Kate working towards her PhD and Margo dubbed “Queen of Fantasy” for all her awards, but neither novel incorporated ALL the issues upon which this award allegedly focuses: race, gender, sexuality, class and disability. Winter Be My Shield incorporated ALL THE THINGS. These are

  • race:  races at war and people who are racially prejudiced
  • gender: women subjugated in a patriarchal society and women living in an egalitarian polygamous society (based on a real Siberian tribe, people!)
  • sexuality: gay people (although admittedly minor characters they do not fall into the ‘comedic camp’ trope) and, of course, polygamous and monogamous people.
  •  class: aristocrats, slaves and freedom fighters with class struggles and conflict
  • disability: Isidro is tortured, acquiring a permanent disability: one arm is rendered useless

In Jo Spurrier’s books Isidro has to learn to cope with his disability. He is neither magically healed nor shunted out of sight: instead he continues as a central character. I was furious at the end of reading Winter because I was sure Isidro, now disabled, was to be sent off-stage so to speak. I was wrong.

Later I learnt that Jo Spurrier has a disability and wanted to write a character with a disability. THIS IS SO AWESOME. This also explains why she doesn’t make the all-too-common mistake of having someone shot and injured and carrying on as if you can climb down a cliff-face with a broken wrist or fight or shoot with a bullet in your shoulder or – my personal fave from Arrow – get shot in the biceps but hey, flex those biceps nonetheless.

People with disability are shunted to one side in our society. My mentor from one of the Big Five publishing houses told me that I won’t ever get a job in the publishing industry because of my disability. She said my only hope for employment – with my 3 degrees and working my butt off here at Dark Matter – is for an admin assistant position in the public service under an equity scheme. As if ANYONE wants a vision impaired person: my mentor, without any understanding of what my disability really is and how capable I am, without any medical assessment, has decided that I cannot copy edit and I cannot work full-time, therefore I should go somewhere else and be a burden somewhere else.

Capable people with disabilities are sorely needed in literature and pop culture so people stop treating us like trash.

Here we are in 2014, with an award that is supposed to recognise novels of excellence incorporating issues of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability.

Here we have a work of excellence that incorporates every single one of the above issues and does so excellently.

And what work is missing from the shortlist?

The one by the author with a disability whose excellent, well-written work published by HarperVoyager ticks all the boxes.


The Norma K Hemming Award is a judged award. The judges are Russell Blackford, Sarah Endacott, Rob Gerrand and Tess Williams.

On Linkedin, Russell Blackford describes himself as a “Writer, philosopher, and critic.” He’s a straight white male whose current employer is listed as “University of Newcastle, Journal of Evolution and Technology, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies”.

I’m not sure if I know Sarah Endacott personally; knowing the science fiction community in Melbourne it’s a fairly safe bet she’s white. She’s listed as a freelance editor with employers “edit or die, Victorian Department of Health, University of Wollongong”.

Rob Gerrand is another white male; his profile says “Specialist in corporate governance, and in reputation and change management, author.” Employer: “Trackatronics Pty Ltd, The Dax Centre, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health”.

Tess Williams‘s Linkedin profile is limited, saying only “postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Western Australia” but her photo on Facebook shows she’s white.

So we have a panel of judges all from one particular class. Two of the judges are highly privileged: middle-class white males. I am very interested to hear if any of them have a disability or are LGBTQIA.


Why do they get to judge an award intended to recognise people groups who are NOT privileged written into science fiction and fantasy literature?