Fittingly, on a glorious autumn evening on her favourite reading spot at Trinity College, the Bulpadock, acclaimed poet, essayist and novelist, Dr Lisa Gorton (TC 1990), was presented the Bill Cowan Alumnus of the Year Award 2016, an award that recognises outstanding achievements by a Trinity alumnus or alumna during the previous year.
Lisa is a Rhodes Scholar and writer. She was the winner of the inaugural Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize. She won the 2008 Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry for a collection of poems entitled Press Release. For her second poetry collection Hotel Hyperion (2013) she received the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal.
In 2016, Lisa’s debut adult novel, The Life of Houses, was chosen as the Joint Winner of the Fiction Prize at the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and also won the People’s Choice at the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award.
The novel which had initially started as a prose poem was converted into a novel to give the work a ‘stronger narrative’ and explores themes including sex, class, family, love, death, change, and the pull of the past.
This year, Drinks Under the Oak was attended by a record 242 alumni across several decades of the College. Lisa said she was both ‘honoured and a little bit embarrassed’ to be this year’s recipient of the Bill Cowan Award.
'I feel so honoured to receive this medal, it’s named after Bill Cowan (TC 1963) for really extraordinary commitment to the College, more than 20 years on the finance committee and more than five years as Chair,’ said Lisa.
The inaugural recipient of the award was Dr Jack Best AO (TC 1958) and the previous two winners of the award were lawyers Julian McMahon (TC 1986) and The Honourable Justice Geoffrey Nettle (TC 1974).
With so many impressive candidates across a wide range of areas, Lisa’s success is significant in celebrating the contribution of women in the arts. While studying and living at the College, Lisa remembers ‘very strong impressive women’ in the arts at Trinity.
‘Susie King (TC 1988) produced an amazing musical with Lucy Wilson (TC 1989), Mel Gray (aka Meow Meow) (TC 1988), Georgie Richter (TC 1989), Kiera Lindsey (TC 1989), a lot of people who have gone on to have careers in the arts. One of the things I feel privileged to have at Trinity was to have the contact with these powerful creative women.’
Lisa spoke of her entrance to the College conducted by then Senior Student and current Director of Advancement, Scott Charles (TC 1986), which featured an ‘impromptu Limerick’ and the somewhat surprising declaration that he also enjoyed poetry.
‘When I look back on all the amazing privileges I enjoyed here in this place, I think that signals what it was, not the Limerick itself, impromptu brilliance as it displayed, but the sense that people could always surprise you.
There was an opportunity here to try things that you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to try and to spend time with people with other interests and to discover their variety and their roundness and their quality of surprise.’
Lisa’s advice to young writers is to read a lot, find your own writing community and that it is normal to have feelings of doubt and uncertainty.
‘Somehow, I think that writing is just a process of learning to live with that doubt and uncertainty and persisting anyway instead of being discouraged by it.’
Congratulations Lisa, a very deserving winner of the Bill Cowan Alumnus of the Year Award.
Photos from Drinks Under the Oak.