Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch has taken out three major prizes in this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Award for her novel ‘The Yield’.
The novel, which was published in July 2019, won Book of the Year, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the People’s Choice Award. The judges this year included journalist Jane McCredie, critic Mireille Juchau and writers Felicity Castagna and Michael Sala.
The judges described Winch’s second novel (and third book) as “a ground-breaking and wholly original work of fiction by one of our most exciting contemporary writers”, and “makes a powerful argument about the urgency of revitalising Indigenous language.”
The novel employs three narrative strands to trace the journey of a young woman, August Gondiwindi, who returns home after the death of her grandfather whom she discovers was in the middle of compiling a dictionary of traditions, customs and beliefs of his ancestors. The novel includes a dictionary of Wiradjuri language, which can be sampled on the publisher’s site, Penguin Random House.
On Sunday night Winch made her acceptance speech via a pre-recorded ceremony streamed on the State Library of NSW website, describing her novel as one about “eternal love, history and how the mother tongue can be taken and used in the spiritual subjugation of a people. How central language is to our continual connection to Country, family and culture — to healing and pride. Because it is a sacred thing.”
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It’s #77saturday with the @ausyabloggers and today I’m featuring The Yield by remarkable Indiginious Australian storyteller @tara_june_winch. How could it be that Australia, professedly the new home of liberty and light, had become a theatre of oppression and cruelty. Albert Gondiwindi is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind. #aussiereaders #ausyabloggers #igreads #bookaddict #booklover #booknerd #reading #reader #aussiebookbloggers #bookstagram #bookobsessed #bookish #booklove #instabook #bookaddict #booksofinstagram #bookish #bookgram #bookdragon #books #bookworm #indigenouslit #theyield #tarajunewinch
She also acknowledged Stanley Vernard Grant Senior, Wiradjuri elder and language archivist and linguist Dr John Rudder for “saving and preserving the Wiradjuri language, which is central to “continual connection to Country, family and culture… healing and pride.”
In July last year, Winch described her novel as ‘commercial’ and told The Guardian’s Sian Cain that she was nervous about the reception “because it means more people loving it or hating it.” In the same interview Winch described the experience of writing the novel as ‘manic.’
“I had to not sleep. In that state, I didn’t look after my body or my health. It was only my family and my book, and I disappeared.”
In an interview on ABC’s Nightlife around the same time, Winch told Suzanne Hill the novel was influenced by Alexis Wright’s ‘Carpentaria’, a Miles Franklin Award winner in 2007, and that the idea of ‘The Yield’ was birthed back when she wrote her first novel, ‘Swallow the Air.’
Winch said learning her Wiradjuri language was “super moving.”
“When you get your tongue around it, and someone can understand you, it’s such a joy. These words have opened up my mind to my own culture.”
The book was also shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Stella Prize.
It was named one of The Guardian Australia’s ‘unmissables‘, a series highlighting significant new release Australian books, and took the now Paris-based writer ten years to complete.
In 2008, Winch travelled to Nigeria to spend 18 months studying with Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian writer and Nobel Prize winner for Literature, as part of the prestigious Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
Her first novel, ‘Swallow the Air’ was published in 2006 and was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. Her second book, ‘After the Carnage’, a collection of short stories, was published in 2016.
It was longlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for fiction, shortlisted for the 2017 NSW Premier’s Christina Stead prize for Fiction and the Queensland Literary Award. In 2007, she was named one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists.
Winch grew up on a housing estate in Wollongong, squatted as a teenager and hitchhiked across Australia, before traveling overseas. Last night, she said she hopes the book, her “heart on a plate”, will “spur the department of education into implementing our first languages into our core curriculum”.