The Third Chopstick: A memoir about my relationship to the Vietnam War, The Third Chopstick is being published by Ginninderra Press, due for release in April-May 2020.
National Library 2020
In May 2020, I will be involved in a book event at the National Library to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Vietnam Moratorium.
Winter Tales, ANL
In 2016 I presented a talk, Activist and Author, at the National Library as part of their regular series, Winter Tales, auspiced by the National Library in partnership with the Australian Women's Archives Project. You can read a transcript here.
Published in journal, 4W
My short story, To the West, about a Vietnam veteran trying to die, was published in literary journal, 4W, in 2017.
The Stella Prize
In My Mother's Hands was long-listed for The Stella Prize 2015. The judges wrote: In 1950s Sydney, at the height of the Cold War, Biff Ward was the pre-teenage daughter of unusual parents: her mother was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and her father a prominent member of the Communist Party. In subsequent years, her historian father Russel Ward would become well known as the author of The Australian Legend, while her mother descended deeper into the mental illness whose first manifestation had been the mysterious death of her first child Alison, who had drowned, as an infant, in the bath. This memoir is a moving and disquieting account of life in a family where silence ruled and nobody felt safe, but where everyone remained as loyal, and even as loving, as they could. Ward’s story of her family, and especially of her mother, is full of insight and frank intelligence, and shows what terrible stress and struggle sometimes went on behind closed doors in an era that stigmatised mental illness and idealised traditional family life.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award (short-list)
In My Mother's Hands was short-listed for The NSW Premier's Douglas Stweart Prize for Non-Fiction, 2015. The judges wrote: Biff Ward’s charismatic father, Russel, was a celebrated, sometimes controversial, historian; her mother, Margaret, suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness for most of her adult life. Like the prim white gloves with which Margaret hid her mutilated hands, the Wards’ conventional exterior concealed fear, silences and the mysterious death of a baby girl. In My Mother’s Hands offers a clear‐eyed account of a family’s struggle with mental illness at a time when the nature of that illness was not well understood and difference was stigmatised. Balancing compassion and candour, Ward draws nuanced portraits of both her parents. She recounts the unhappy consequences of her mother’s condition: the ineffective and harrowing medical interventions, terrifying episodes when the illness flared, and the emotional alienation and shame her mother’s peculiarity created within the family. Ward is also frank about her father’s personal shortcomings, while sympathising with his deep sense of frustration and dismay at his wife’s disturbing behaviour. Written without a trace of self‐pity, this is an insightful and moving memoir built around the author’s quest to untangle the puzzle of her sister’s. [...]
WA Premier’s Literary Award (short-list)
In My Mother's Hands was shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier's Book Award 2016 in the Non-fiction category in 2016. 792 books were entered in the nine categories of the award.
My novella, In 1974, was one of six winners of Griffith Review's novella competition, Storied Lives, 2017. The story is based on a real-life event in which a government school teacher sexually abused all the girls in his fifth and sixth grade class. The story interrogates the Royal Commission into Institutionalized Child Abuse’s practice of focusing on whether responsible parties took the matter to the police by demonstrating that in 1974, in similar circumstances, no one even thought of the possibility of going to the police. My story poses the possibility that this expectation is an a-historical construct, an anachronism. Published in GR 58.
Based on the first two chapters of my upcoming memoir, The Third Chopstick, I won a Griffith Review 2018 fellowship for a Varuna residency. Julianne Schultz, editor of GR, wrote, ‘I think your book will really make a big impact. I found the extract really compelling.’