'Speaks to an urgent issue': 31yo Melbourne writer wins Miles Franklin Award

‘Speaks to an urgent issue’: 31-year old Melbourne writer takes home Miles Franklin Award


At just 31, Melbourne writer Jennifer Down has won the 2022  Miles Franklin Literary Award for her second novel, Bodies of Light.

The judges called the novel one “of affirmation, resilience and survival, told through an astonishing voice.” 

They praised the author’s “extraordinary skill and compassion” in a story about a woman’s journey overcoming unspeakable traumas throughout several decades of her life.

“[The novel] invites readers to witness the all-too-often concealed, destructive forces of institutionalised care,” the judges wrote. “Down has written an important book which speaks to an urgent issue in contemporary Australian life.” 

Down said she is still pinching herself after receiving news of her win.

“To be longlisted, and then shortlisted, among authors whose works I’ve long read and admired, already felt like a stroke of exceptional fortune,” she said. “I was, and am, elated to be in the company of writers embracing stylistic, thematic and formal diversity, whose works explore such different slivers of “Australian life”.’

Down’s win is the second consecutive Miles Franklin Award received by her publisher, Text Publishing, who also published last year’s winner, Amanda Lohrey, for her novel The Labyrinth.

Michael Heyward, publisher at Text Publishing, called Down’s novel a “transformative novel that gives epic scope to the life of a single soul.”

“To read it is to be immersed in it,” he said. “ All of us at Text are thrilled at the news of Jennifer Down’s Miles Franklin win, and offer her our heartfelt congratulations.”

Alaina Gougoulis, senior editor at Text Publishing who edited Down’s book said the win was an “incredible recognition” for her author.

“The abundant talent on display in her debut novel, Our Magic Hour, has been fully realised in this book, an intimate story of one life told on an epic scale: heartbreaking, and yet brimming with hope and beauty. That she is still so early in her career should fill us with optimism about the future of Australian writing. I am beyond thrilled for her, as her editor and as her friend.”

As part of her research for the novel, Down read police transcripts, parliamentary reports, Senate inquiries and care leaver testimonies.

All the while, she was aiming to embark on “writing as a kind of witnessing, not writing to mine the depths of somebody else’s horror … done effectively, it’s quite breathtaking.”

“Spending all of your free time reading about various ways in which the state has failed some of its most vulnerable young people, you start to feel a bit miserable and cynical,” she told Guardian Australia.

“But if I was allowed to have one lofty ambition, it would be that people recognise that it’s a relatively faithful representation of some of what goes on.” 

Down’s first novel, Our Magic Hour, was shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.

Her collection of short stories, Pulse Points, won the 2018 Readings Prize and the 2018 Steele Rudd Award in the Queensland Literary Awards. In both 2017 and 2018, she was named a Sydney Morning Herald  Young Novelist of the Year. 

She is currently working on her next novel.

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