This is not going to be a treatise on the Miles Franklin Award and diversity. We all know literary awards have not been as diverse as they could have been (and that they still have a way to go). We know, too, that this is not only due to judging, but also reflects the fact that the publishing industry has not been as diverse as it could be. It is probably also true that, in the past at least, we readers have not demanded more diversity in our reading. However, this story is too complex for this post, and, anyhow, has been explored many times. Today, I simply want to celebrate those Indigenous Australian writers who have been listed for and/or won Australia’s (arguably) most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin, in the spirit of bringing attention to their work as a body of literature.
Notwithstanding the above, I do need to make the point that it wasn’t until 2000 that we started seeing Indigenous Australian writers appear in the short and longlists for the award*.
- 2000 Kim Scott’s Benang (won) (Lisa’s and Bill’s reviews)
- 2007 Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (won) (my review)
- 2011 Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance (won) (my review)
- 2012 Tony Birch Blood (shortlisted) (Lisa’s review)
- 2014 Melissa Lucashenko Mullumbimby (longlisted) (Lisa’s review)
- 2014 Alexis Wright The Swan Book (shortlisted) (Lisa’s and Bill’s reviews)
- 2016 Tony Birch Ghost River (longlisted) (my review)
- 2018 Kim Scott’s Taboo (shortlisted) (Lisa’s and Bill’s reviews)
- 2019 Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip (won) (my review)
- 2020 Tony Birch’s The white girl (shortlisted) (my review)
- 2020 Tara June Winch’s The yield (won) (my review)
You could probably call this a round-up of the usual suspects, in terms of contemporary Indigenous Australian novelists, with Kim Scott and Tony Birch appearing three times, Melissa Lucashenko and Alexis Wright twice each, and of course relative newbie, Tara June Winch, once. It’s notable that every book here deals with Indigenous issues. This is important for truth-telling, but it will be a measure of our maturity as a nation when Indigenous Australian writers can feel free of the need to carry these truths on their backs.
Anyhow, I wonder what Miles Franklin would say? When she said “without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil”, I don’t believe she was thinking of the real Indigenous people of this soil. However, I imagine that, were she living now, she would love the richness that the growth of Indigenous Australian literature has brought to Australian life and culture.
It seems apposite, then, to leave this (very) little tribute with the words of this year’s winner, Tara June Winch, as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, “It doesn’t have to be POC writers against white voices – we have to work together to bring voices to the fore.” Absolutely. Let’s hope more and more diverse writers get to tell their stories to us. I – and I know many of my litblogging friends – love to read them. Meanwhile, if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you do read The yield, a complex but strong book which its author calls “a once-in-a-lifetime love letter to Australia.”
Have you read any of the listed books, and if so, would you like to share your favourite/s?
* I may have missed a writer or two, as I didn’t find complete lists of short and longlisted authors from the beginning of the award, but I think my point still stands.