Okay, so last week I said that post would be the end of the current little run of awards posts – but then I saw the announcement of this year’s Best Young Australian Novelists award, and decided we could cope with just one more. I really will try to offer something new (or, do I mean old – time will tell) next week.
This award, as I have explained before, was established in 1997 by The Sydney Morning Herald‘s then literary editor, Susan Wyndham. This year is, thus, its 27th. It’s an emerging writers’ award, open to “writers aged 35 and younger” at the time their book (novel or short story collection) is published. They don’t have to be debuts, though they often are. Last year’s winner was Diana Reid’s Love and virtue, with Ella Baxter’s New animal and Michael Burrows’ Where the line breaks being runners-up.
This year we seem to have three equal winners, with each receiving $5,000:
- Katerina Gibson’s Women I know (debut short story collection)
- George Haddad’s Losing face (second novel, just longlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin award)
- Jay Carmichael’s Marlo (second novel) (Lisa’s review)
The judging panel comprised the Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum editor, Melanie Kembrey (who also judged last year’s award), plus writers Bram Presser (whose The book of dirt won several prizes including the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction) and Fiona Kelly McGregor (whose Iris was longlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin award). The prize money comes from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
The Herald‘s Melanie Kembrey, writing in the emailed newsletter I receive, said of the winners:
If these books haven’t already found a place on your reading list, they should. Gibson’s short story collection − clever, hilarious and inventive − will have you returning for rereads. Carmichael’s Marlo, the story of a love affair between two men in conservative 1950s Melbourne, will heal and break your heart in equal measure. It’s a slight novel that packs a big punch. Haddad’s Losing Face is alive with the sights and sounds of western Sydney, and deftly tackles the subjects of masculinity, misogyny and sexual violence
The winners, briefly
Most of the information below comes from the announcement in The Sydney Morning Herald (and, presumably, The Age).
Women I know is a debut collection of short stories from an author whose work has appeared in such well-established literary journals as Granta, Kill your darlings, and Overland. She was also the Pacific regional winner of the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
The SMH reported that the judges described this collection as showing “astonishing skill with the form – moving easily from actual to fantastical worlds, from sharp, straightforward prose to concrete poetry.”
Gibson herself is reported as saying that she loves the short story form, that “there’s something you can do with a short story that isn’t possible in longer writing. You can take more stylistic risks or try bolder concepts”.
Haddad’s first novel was, in fact, the novella, Populate and perish, which won the 2016 Viva La Novella competition. According to Star Observer, his second novel, Losing face, grew out of his doctoral studies at Western Sydney University “where he was researching the representation of masculinity in contemporary Australian literature, looking to authors like Christos Tsiolkas and Peter Polites for inspiration”.
The SMH reported Haddad as saying that “It was really important for me to contribute to the conversation and to snapshot characters and situations that reflected contemporary Australian society as accurately as I knew it. The novel was always in me, but it was particularly sparked by my doctoral research on the intersection of masculinities, shame and suburbia.”
Carmichael’s second novel, Marlo, follows his first novel Ironbark. It was about a young gay man coming of age in a small country town, and was, says The Guardian, “so deftly written it made Christos Tsiolkas jealous”. Lisa, in her review of Marlo linked above, writes that it “reveals the hostile environment of 1950s Melbourne for a young man discovering his sexuality when the laws of the land denied him the right to be. It’s a very powerful, moving novella, tracing the coming-of-age of Christopher, a young gay man escaping the constrictions of the small Gippsland town of Marlo”.
According to the SMH, Marlo is “a perfectly crafted story” and quotes the judges as saying that it “makes history immediate, every page pulsing with heart and sensuality”.
Have you read any of these books?