Women dominate this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

Women dominate this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards


Last night, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced with 11 of the 13 awards won by women.

30-year old Ellen van Neerven was the star of the ceremony, whose collection of poetry ‘Throat’, took out three prizes for a total of $60,000. The Mununjali Yugambeh author told the ABC they are grateful for it.

“You know, if I just relied on book sales, I would not have any money,” they said. “I’m 30 and I’ve written three books and I’ve also done a lot of other kinds of books, anthologies and that sort of thing. It seems like I’d probably be like ‘go go go’ — but actually I’ve tried not to rush things.”

“That’s been how I’ve got to a point where I am happy with a book — like with this book. I probably worked on it for about four or five years. But that is a luxury — to be able to not rush.”

Van Neerven took out Book of the Year (worth $10,000), the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($30,000) and the Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000). They are the third Indigenous poet to win the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry.

NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian said the awards “….provide a benchmark for Australian writing, recognising the year’s greatest achievements by established and emerging authors, playwrights and scriptwriters.” 

Jane McCredie, a Senior Judge of the prizes, said the judges considered more than 600 written works that showed a “dazzling array of genres and styles, many of them raising fundamental questions about authorship and who gets to tell the stories of our country.”

“The winning writers stand out for their literary skill and the urgency of their themes, whether applied to the most intimate subject matter or larger global narratives.” 

Kate Grenville took out the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($40,000) for her 15th book, A Room Made of Leaves, and Laura McPhee-Browne won the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing ($5,000 – sponsored by UTS) for Cherry Beach.

This is a commanding and fearless work that vividly figures states of yearning and sadness, darkness and damage,” the Judges said in their statement of McPhee-Browne’s work. “McPhee-Browne tracks with sensitivity the uncertainty of breakdown, and the transformative power of desire.”

Associate professor of Modern History at Macquarie University, Kate Fullagar took out the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction ($40,000) for The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire, while Amelia Mellor won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature ($30,000) for The Grandest Bookshop in the World.

“It was the audacity of this project that most impressed the judging panel, one that succeeds thanks to Kate Fullagar’s committed research and fine prose style,” the Judges explained in their notes. “[the book] is a dazzling work, one that invites readers to look not only at Ostenaco and Mai through the eyes of Joshua Reynolds, but to look back at Reynolds and Georgian Britain from the standpoint of these two men.”

Davina Bell won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature ($30,000) for The End of the World is Bigger than Love, a story of twin sisters trying to survive in a remote location after an event that has ravaged the rest of the world.

“The book is ambitious in scope and form, successfully exploring themes both global and personal — from grief, love and betrayal to climate change and cyberterrorism,” Judges said. “It is also about storytelling itself. References to classic literature throughout not only add depth and resonance to Bell’s descriptions, but also draw attention to the artifice of fiction and even the ways we use internal narratives as a means of coping with trauma.”

Melina Marchetta took out this year’s Special Award ($10,000) for her 1992 YA novel, Looking for Alibrandi. The Judging Panel said that it was “…hard to overstate the impact of Melina Marchetta’s young adult novel.”

“For a generation of young girls with hyphenated identities in the suburbs of Australia, Marchetta’s protagonist, Josie, a spirited Italian–Australian teenager struggling to reconcile the demands of her background with the reality of growing up, spoke to their story in a way many books hadn’t before.” 

The last award of the evening, The People’s Choice Award, went to The Dictionary of Lost Words written by South Australian writer Pip Williams. 

“This book is a story about the power of storytelling and about growing up in the magic of words,” Williams said in a video last year. “At its heart, is a story about a young woman.”

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