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Monday musings on Australian literature: Best Young Australian Novelists (2)

May 4, 2020

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists award is announced annually to coincide with the opening of the Sydney Writers Festival. Of course, there is no live festival this year, but awards announcements can still go ahead can’t they? I have posted on these awards before, but that was 2013, so I figured I could feature them again, particularly since this year’s winners were all writers of short story collections – and, interestingly, all women.

The Best Young Australian Novelists awards were established in 1997 by Susan Wyndham, the newspaper’s literary editor at the time. Its aim is to recognise emerging writing talent, so is open to “writers aged 35 and younger at the time of publication of their nominated books”. It is called a “novelists” award, but the award is made on the basis of a specific book, which is why writers, like Sonia Hartnett below, can win more than once. I should note, too, that despite the award’s name, short stories have been allowed since 2009.

Ellen van Neerven, Heat and light, book coverIt is not the richest award – though $8000 this year for the winner and $1000 for each runner-up is not bad either – but it carries a good deal of kudos. It has also done well over its 24 years in identifying young writers who have gone on to become serious names in the Australian literary world. Past winners, with links to my posts, include:

Book coverIf you look at the Wikipedia link in the paragraph above, you’ll see that the number of awards made each year varies. In 1997, ten awards were made, but most commonly it seems that around three to four are announced. This year, it was three, as Jason Steger reported. They are:

  • Alice Bishop’s A constant hum (winner)
  • Joey Bui’s Lucky ticket
  • Josephine Rowe’s Here until August. (Rowe has won before for her collection A loving faithful animal, which I’ve reviewed.)

The judges were SMH’s Literary Editor Jason Steger, plus two previous winners, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Fiona McGregor. Steger reports that:

What distinguishes the collections are the strength of the voices and distinctiveness of their characters. The stories are firmly rooted with a solid sense of place and at their hearts a strong sense of compassion for the predicaments of the protagonists and what they are experiencing.

They are all collections I have on my radar, but not in my physical TBR, which is a shame given I like short stories. Anyhow, Steger says that they also made two honourable mentions, Kathryn Hind’s Hitch (about which I’ve written before) and Carly Cappielli’s Listurbia (which I don’t know).

Other emerging writers’ awards

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universeWhile SMH’s Best Young Australian Novelists is one of the best known emerging writers awards, there are others. Many, like this one, are age-related, such as The Australian Vogel Literary Award which was won this year by Katherine Kruimink, A treacherous country. But not all are. The UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards suite is for “a published book of fiction by an author who has not previously published a work of fiction that is booklength”. There is no age limit here. Last year’s winner was Trent Dalton with Boy swallows universe (my review), while this year’s was SL Lim with Real differences (Lisa’s review).

I have written about such awards before – about unpublished manuscript awards and emerging/debut fiction awards – so I won’t repeat the information here. However, in her May Six degrees of Separation post, Melinda Tognini mentioned a new award for young writers, the biennial Fogarty Literary Award, which was established last year. It is sponsored by the Fogarty Foundation and Fremantle Press. It is “awarded to an unpublished manuscript by a Western Australian author aged between 18 and 35 for a work of adult fiction, narrative non-fiction or young adult fiction”. The prize is $20,000 cash and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press. Not bad, eh? The inaugural winner was Rebecca Higgie for The History of Mischief, which will be published in September 2020. The next winner will be announced in May 2021.

Do you follow emerging writers’ awards and have you made any exciting discoveries as a result?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2020 23:29

    I have Katherine Kruimink’s, A Treacherous Country on the TBR!
    But…
    I am reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, which is 900+pages long, so it will be a while before I get to it.
    The good news is, I went to my beloved optometrist today, and he gets it straight away when I tell him that it’s no good the specialist telling me I have 20/20 vision when I can’t read a book, a recipe or the ingredients on a packet. He says I would have been better off to have my short vision fixed and my long vision left alone, but specialists do their own thing and they think everyone plays golf and watches footy and so they need their long vision fixed. Hmpf is what I say to that and I know what I will do if I ever have to have cataracts done again. (Which is not very likely).
    Anyway, no more whinging, he has sent off my old glasses to be turned into beaut new glasses and he has marked it urgent… because it is! (He’s a keen reader too.)

    • May 5, 2020 08:27

      Oh, that’s good news Lisa. I can imagine it’s been very frustrating.

      I thought they ask you about what vision you prefer, but clearly not! I’d certainly prefer my short vision fixed if I were given the opportunity!!

      • May 5, 2020 10:49

        It was more a case of, we could do this or we could do that but we’ll do this because it’s best.
        He meant well, I suppose.

        • May 5, 2020 11:28

          I’m sure he did, but I’ll take this on board for when my time comes!

  2. May 5, 2020 02:53

    I don’t know a lot about Australian fiction, but it seems to me like the past winners have all gone on to make pretty good names for themselves.

    • May 5, 2020 08:30

      Not all have Cathy – I picked some of the best known ones – but a good number have, which is great to see.

  3. May 5, 2020 06:02

    Erhm, no. The most ‘exciting’ thing to me is Fremantle Press’ being involved in an award. I wonder if this means they’ll be supporting their own authors in the future ,, [grin]

  4. Meg permalink
    May 5, 2020 08:22

    Hi Sue, I do look at emerging writers’ awards, and with consideration given to other reviews. What a brilliant idea by Susan Wyndham to create this award in identifying young Australian writers.

  5. May 6, 2020 09:50

    Glad to hear that Bishop got some recognition for A Constant Hum. It was a fascinating, engaging read.

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