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.
It 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:
- Sonia Hartnett (2001, 2003)
- Chloe Hooper (2003)
- Gillian Mears (1997)
- Elliot Perlman (1999)
- Christos Tsiolkas (1997)
- Ellen van Neerven (2015)
- Rohan Wilson (2012)
- Tara June Winch (2007)
If 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
While 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?