A two-time winner and three first-time nominees are among the talented Australian authors shortlisted for the 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award, announced today at the Mitchell Library of NSW – the “literary home” of Miles Franklin.
The Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, alongside award trustee Perpetual, announced six authors – three men and three women – on a shortlist that gives readers unexpected insights into Australian life. The novels offer a remarkable collection of stories that explore the search for identity, trust, love and redemption, and the fraught bonds of friendships, families and communities.
Distinctive to this year’s shortlist is the diversity of the authors vying for the prestigious $60,000 prize. A mix of emerging and established writers, the nominees include Rodney Hall for A Stolen Season, who has previously won the award for Just Relations (1982) and The Grisly Wife (1994); Gail Jones for The Death of Noah Glass, who has previously been shortlisted and longlisted, and Melissa Lucashenko for her novel Too Much Lip, who has also been previously longlisted.
Melissa’s novel was written as a result of her receiving the Copyright Agency’s $80,000 Cultural Fund Author Fellowship in 2016. It has since been shortlisted for the Stella Prize, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Australian Book Industry Awards.
First-time nominees include Michael Mohammed Ahmad, whose novel THE LEBS won the Multicultural NSW Award at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Awards; Gregory Day, who won the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal in 2006; and Jennifer Mills, an award-winning writer of novels, short stories and poems.
The 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award Shortlist is:
- THE LEBS by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Hachette Australia): This coming-of-age novel explores the life of Bani Adam, as he grows up in Sydney’s western suburbs in a post 9/11 political climate. Bani has to negotiate his sense of identity and belonging in this hostile, confusing world, while dreaming of so much more.
- A SAND ARCHIVE by Gregory Day (Picador Australia): Seeking stories of Australia’s Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a manual from a minor player in the road’s history, engineer FB Herschell. The slim, grey volume appears unremarkable, but it paints a surprising portrait of its author between the lines.
- A STOLEN SEASON by Rodney Hall (Picador Australia): This novel explores the stories of three people whose lives have been changed profoundly by war, men and money, and their experiences of a period of life they never thought possible.
- THE DEATH OF NOAH GLASS by Gail Jones (Text Publishing): Having just returned from a trip to Sicily, art historian Noah Glass is discovered floating face down in the swimming pool at his Sydney apartment. Complicating matters, a sculpture has gone missing from a museum in Palermo, and Noah is a suspect. His children Martin and Evie must come to terms with their father’s death in this novel of grief, loss and artistic contemplation. Gail has previously been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin for Sixty Lights (2006), Dreams of Speaking (2007), Sorry (2008) and longlisted for Five Bells (2012).
- TOO MUCH LIP by Melissa Lucashenko (The University of Queensland Press): Wise-cracking Kerry Slater has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley. With plans to spend 24 hours, tops, over the border, she quickly realises that family and Bundjalung country have other plans. Melissa has been previously longlisted for the Miles Franklin with Mullumbimby in 2014.
- DYSCHRONIA by Jennifer Mills (Picador Australia): One morning, the residents of a small coastal town somewhere in Australia wake to discover the sea has disappeared. One among them has been plagued by troubling visions of this cataclysm for years. Is she a prophet? Does she have a disorder that skews her perception of time? Or is she a gifted and compulsive liar?
Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, author and literary critic, Dr Bernadette Brennan, said:
“The 2019 shortlist showcases a diverse and exciting range of Australian voices and experiences. Each writer has been unafraid to take risks in their narrative, in one or more of structure, subject matter or style. These books celebrate, for the most part, some of the complex, disparate and urgent aspects of contemporary Australian life.”
Joining Dr Bernadette Brennan on the judging panel is Mitchell Librarian of the State Library of NSW and Chair of panel, Richard Neville, The Australian journalist Murray Waldren, author and book critic Dr Melinda Harvey, and Sydney-based bookseller Lindy Jones.
The Copyright Agency’s CEO, Adam Suckling, said: “The Copyright Agency is proud to be announcing this year’s nominees as part of its ongoing support and celebration of Australia’s creative writing industry. The shortlist once again engages and challenges our view of Australian life, and showcases the vibrant voices of some of the country’s most talented authors.”
Each of the 2019 shortlisted authors receives $5,000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.
Perpetual’s General Manager of Community and Social Investments, Caitriona Fay, congratulated the shortlisted authors.
“More than 60 years after Stella Miles Franklin’s trailblazing philanthropic endeavour, the Australian literary community continues to thrive, and as trustee of this award we are incredibly proud of her enduring legacy. I’d like to congratulate the six shortlisted authors who, through their novels, offer new perspectives on Australian culture and society.”
The 2019 winner, to be announced on 30 July, will receive $60,000 in prize money for the novel judged as being ‘of the highest literary merit’ and which presents ‘Australian life in any of its phases’.
The award’s media partner for 2019 is the ABC.
For further information about the Miles Franklin Literary Award, visit http://www.milesfranklin.com.au/
Michael Mohammed Ahmad - Finalist
Author photo credit: Stelios Papadakis
MICHAEL MOHAMMED AHMAD is an Arab-Australian writer, editor, teacher and community arts worker. He is the founder and director of Sweatshop, a literacy movement in Western Sydney devoted to empowering culturally and linguistically diverse artists through creative writing. Mohammed's essays and short stories have appeared in the Sydney Review of Books, The Guardian, Heat, Seizure, The Lifted Brow, The Australian and Coming of Age: Australian Muslim Stories. His debut novel, The Tribe, received a 2015 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists of the Year Award. Mohammed received his Doctorate of Creative Arts at Western Sydney University in 2017.
‘Bani Adam thinks he’s better than us!’ they say over and over until finally I shout back, ‘I have something to say!’ They all go quiet and wait for me to explain myself, redeem myself, pull my shirt out, rejoin the pack. I hold their anticipation for three seconds, and then, while they’re all ablaze, I say out loud, ‘I do think I’m better.’
As far as Bani Adam is concerned Punchbowl Boys is the arse end of the earth. Though he’s a Leb and they control the school, Bani feels at odds with the other students, who just don’t seem to care. He is a romantic in a sea of hypermasculinity.
Bani must come to terms with his place in this hostile, hopeless world, while dreaming of so much more. Confronting, heartbreaking and illuminating, this fearless novel is from Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist, author of The Tribe, and the founder and director of Sweatshop, Michael Mohammed Ahmad.
The Lebs plunges us deep inside the testosterone-fuelled classrooms and corridors of Punchbowl Boys High School. Bani Adam, first encountered in Ahmad’s The Tribe, believes himself to be a cut above his peers: he thinks he sees more, understands more, feels more. He narrates a tale of adolescent posturing, bigotry and bravado. This confronting, irreverent and darkly humorous novel speaks with power and urgency about the lived reality of mislabelling, marginalisation and demonisation, and their effect on shaping identity. With masterful irony, Ahmad constructs characters who play up to the negative stereotypes of misogynistic, aggressive Muslim men, and then undercuts them. The Lebs is a deliberately unsettling novel; a vital call to consciousness about the politics of identity in our troubled age.
Gregory Day - Finalist
A Sand Archive
Author photo credit: Lorne Pier
Gregory Day is a writer, poet and musician whose debut novel, The Patron Saint of Eels (Picador, 2005), won the prestigious Australian Literature Society Gold Medal in 2006, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for a first novel, and included on the VCE Literature syllabus for five years. His second novel, Ron McCoy's Sea of Diamonds (Picador, 2007), was shortlisted for the 2008 NSW Premier's Prize for fiction, and his novel, The Grand Hotel (Random House, 2010), was chosen by the Herald Sun as the Best Australian Novel of 2010. In 2011 Gregory's story 'The Neighbour's Beans' won the Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. He is a regular contributor to the literary pages of The Age and The Australian newspapers, writes a regular feature called 'Mislaid Books of the Sea' for Great Ocean Quarterly magazine and also writes long form literary criticism for the Sydney Review of Books. He lives on the southwest coast of Victoria, Australia. His novel Archipelago of Souls was shortlisted for the Tasmanian Premier's Award in 2017 and his new novel, A Sand Archive ('A bravura work' Michelle de Kretser) was published in May 2018.
Long before I ever met him I knew his name from the leaky desiccated type of a grey-brown slim volume, cheaply printed but essential to my research...
Seeking stories of Australia's Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a manual from a minor player in the road's history, FB Herschell. It is a volume unremarkable in every way, save for the surprising portrait of its author that can be read between its lines: a vision of a man who writes with uncanny poetry about sand.
And as he continues to mine the archive of FB Herschell - engineer, historian, philosopher - it is not the subject, but the man who begins to fascinate. A man whose private revolution among the streets of Paris in May 1968 begins to change the way he views life, love, and the coastal landscape into which he was born...
Gregory Day’s A Sand Archive contemplates how lives and landscapes are altered across time and generations by the irresistible forces of nature and the random volatilities of society. His scrutiny is unrelenting but rewarding, homing in on the micro to embrace the macro. From the apparent regional stillness around Victoria’s Great Ocean Road to the cosmopolitan upheavals of 1968 Paris, “the enigmas of sand” provide a gritty if shifting base for an adroit study of obsession and evocation of personal transformations. Through a nameless narrator who forensically excavates, and mirrors, the life and cultural sensitivities of driven engineer/author FB Herschell, Day explores the human condition with deft skill, merging the technical and lyrical with pared back poeticism as he unsentimentally unearths the loneliness of the long-distance outsider.
Rodney Hall - Finalist
A Stolen Season
Rodney Hall is one of our foremost authors. He left school at sixteen for family reasons, already determined to become a writer and to educate himself by experience. Two years later he was called up for National Service. Afterwards, when the opportunity arose, he sailed from Brisbane to Genoa and set out, with £112 in his pocket, to walk around Europe. He was thirty-one when he enrolled at university and his formative literary influences-quite at odds with those of his contemporaries-were already set. He studied Old English and the cultural history of India while supporting himself as an ABC radio actor and scriptwriter. Since then he has won two Miles Franklin Awards, his novels have been widely published and translated into many languages, and he has been twice presented with the gold medal of the Australian Literature Society.
Adam's life has been ruined by war... A veteran of the Iraq conflict who has suffered such extensive bodily trauma that he can only really survive by means of a mechanical skeleton.
Marianna's has been ruined by men... A woman who has had to flee the country after her husband lied to the wrong people.
John Philip's by too much money... Until he receives a surprise inheritance in the evening of his own life.
Rodney Hall, two-times winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, presents the story of three people experiencing a period of life they never thought possible, and, perhaps, should never have been granted at all...
A Stolen Season is a triptych narrative that offers, beyond savage political critique, gripping portraits of its characters on the edge of some crisis. Adam, an Australian army soldier, is returned from Iraq with catastrophic injuries and to a wife who is halfway out the door. Marianna, a dance teacher, escaping grief and deception at home, flings herself into a surprising encounter with a mysterious ancient civilisation. John, born into wealth and privilege, receives a gift from a distant ancestor that resets his relationship with his extended family. What unites these stories is a bracing examination of what, ultimately, the self is made of when things go awry - when the body, the heart, the ancestral line is broken - and how resilient some of us can be in the face of extraordinary challenges.
Gail Jones - Finalist
The Death of Noah Glass
Author photo credit: Heike Steinweg
The author of seven novels and two collections of stories, Gail Jones is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. Her work has been translated into twelve languages, awarded several prizes in Australia. Internationally her fiction has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the IMPAC Award and the Prix Femina Étranger. She lives in Glebe, NSW.
The art historian Noah Glass, having just returned from a trip to Sicily, is discovered floating face down in the swimming pool at his Sydney apartment block. His adult children, Martin and Evie, must come to terms with the shock of their father’s death. But a sculpture has gone missing from a museum in Palermo, and Noah is a suspect. The police are investigating.
None of it makes any sense. Martin sets off to Palermo in search of answers about his father’s activities, while Evie moves into Noah’s apartment, waiting to learn where her life might take her. Retracing their father’s steps in their own way, neither of his children can see the path ahead.
Gail Jones’s mesmerising new novel tells a story about parents and children, and explores the overlapping patterns that life makes. The Death of Noah Glass is about love and art, about grief and happiness, about memory and the mystery of time.
When Noah Glass is found dead in his swimming pool, the grief of his two children, Martin and Evie, threatens to consume their lives. Their grief is not simply the sudden loss of a beloved art historian father; rather his passing fuels the already complex legacy of Noah’s own traumas that he has bequeathed to them. His death, and his apparent complicity in an art theft in Sicily committed with a mysterious Italian lover, upends the already unstable lives of his children. For Noah, Martin and Evie, their past history is ever-present, and debilitating: but for Martin and Evie their confrontation with this legacy finally gives them hope of a future in which their past can be resolved. Death of Noah Glass is a complex novel, as intricately and richly composed as a Piero della Francesca painting, so beloved by Noah. It perceptively explores the intergenerational complications we weave around life and death.
Melissa Lucashenko - Finalist
Too Much Lip
Author photo credit: LaVonne Bobongie Photography
Melissa Lucashenko is a Goorie author of Bundjalung and European heritage. She has been publishing books with the University of Queensland Press since 1997, with her first novel, Steam Pigs, winning the Dobbie Literary Award and being shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Hard Yards (UQP, 1999) was shortlisted for the Courier-Mail Book of the Year and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and Mullumbimby (UQP, 2013) won the Queensland Literary Award and was longlisted for the Stella Prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award for Fiction and the Kibble Literary Award. She has also written two novels for teenagers: Killing Darcy (UQP, 1998) and Too Flash (IAD Press, 2002). In 2013 Melissa won the inaugural long-form Walkley Award for her Griffith REVIEW essay ‘Sinking below sight: Down and out in Brisbane and Logan’.
Too Much Lip has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the Australian Book Industry Awards.
Wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley.
Kerry plans to spend twenty-four hours, tops, over the border. She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people. Old family wounds open as the Salters fight to stop the development of their beloved river. And the unexpected arrival on the scene of a good-looking dugai fella intent on loving her up only adds more trouble – but then trouble is Kerry’s middle name.
Gritty and darkly hilarious, Too Much Lip offers redemption and forgiveness where none seems possible.
Too Much Lip is a novel of celebratory defiance. Set in Bundjalung country, this fast-paced, hard-hitting narrative confronts political corruption, poverty, intergenerational trauma and various forms of violence and abuse, with humour, wit and fury. Lucashenko’s Goorie characters wrestle with personal wounds and long-held grievances. They exist on the margins: of power, the law, small-town society and, often, personal responsibility. Yet they know the stories passed down from their grandmothers. They remain connected to Country. When Granny Ava’s Island is under threat of development the Salter mob come into their own. Country must not and cannot be taken away.
Jennifer Mills - Finalist
Jennifer Mills is the author of the novels Gone (UQP, 2011) and The Diamond Anchor (UQP, 2009) and a collection of short stories, The Rest is Weight (UQP, 2012). Mills' fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been widely published, appearing in Meanjin, Hecate, Overland, Heat, Island, the Lifted Brow, the Griffith Review, Best Australian Stories, New Australian Stories, and the Review of Australian Fiction, as well as being broadcast, recorded and performed from Adelaide to Berlin. She is a regular writer for Overland literary journal and has contributed criticism to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Wheeler Centre, and the Sydney Review of Books. She is currently the fiction editor at Overland.
An electrifying novel about an oracle. A small town. And the end of the world as we know it...
One morning, the residents of a small coastal town somewhere in Australia wake to discover the sea has disappeared. One among them has been plagued by troubling visions of this cataclysm for years. Is she a prophet? Does she have a disorder that skews her perception of time? Or is she a gifted and compulsive liar?
Oscillating between the future and the past, Dyschronia is a novel that tantalises and dazzles, as one woman's prescient nightmares become entangled with her town's uncertain fate. Blazing with questions of consciousness, trust, and destiny, this is a wildly imaginative and extraordinary novel from award-winning author Jennifer Mills.
Dyschronia is as if the Pythian oracle, accompanied by a Greek chorus, has been transplanted to rural Australia. The novel destablises the concept of time - the illusion that it progresses in a straight line, or that narrative does. Set in a small town, founded initially on false hope and then a toxic extractive industry, a young girl sees, but cannot separate, slivers of the future from the present. Disbelieved, then reviled, eventually Sam is expected to know what will happen although she has no ability to change or even understand what she senses is coming. Her community follows the path of least resistance, surrendering any responsibility for their own lives, mindlessly accepting illness, malaise and spurious authority as the landscape around them is utterly degraded. Dyschronia is an ambitious novel with striking imagery and a merciless commentary on how contemporary inertia is leading to irreversible environmental, societal and individual damage.
Author photo credit: Mitch Osborne
Robbie Arnott was born in Launceston in 1989. His writing has appeared in Island, the Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings and the 2017 anthology Seven Stories. He won the 2015 Tasmanian Young Writers’ Fellowship and the 2014 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers. Robbie lives in Hobart and is an advertising copywriter.
A young man named Levi McAllister decides to build a coffin for his twenty-three-year-old sister, Charlotte—who promptly runs for her life. A water rat swims upriver in quest of the cloud god. A fisherman named Karl hunts for tuna in partnership with a seal. And a father takes form from fire.
The answers to these riddles are to be found in this tale of grief and love and the bonds of family, tracing a journey across the southern island that takes us full circle.
Flames sings out with joy and sadness. Utterly original in conception, spellbinding in its descriptions of nature and its celebration of the power of language, it announces the arrival of a thrilling new voice in contemporary fiction.
Boy Swallows Universe
Author photo credit: Lyndon Mechielsen
Trent Dalton is a staff writer for the Weekend Australian Magazine and a former assistant editor of The Courier Mail. He’s a two-time winner of a Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism, a four-time winner of a Kennedy Award for Excellence in NSW Journalism and a four-time winner of the national News Awards Features Journalist of the Year. His debut novel, Boy Swallows Universe, published in 2018, is a national bestseller and critically acclaimed, winning the 2019 Indie Book of the Year Award, the MUD Literary Prize, the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing and the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and in addition, at the 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards, the book won a record four ABIA Awards including the prestigious Book of the Year Award. Boy Swallows Universe will be published across 34 English language and translation territories.
Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. It's not as if Eli's life isn't complicated enough already. He's just trying to follow his heart, learning what it takes to be a good man, but life just keeps throwing obstacles in the way - not least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.
But Eli's life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He's about to fall in love. And, oh yeah, he has to break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day, to save his mum.
A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.
Author photo credit: Nathan Bajar
Allen and Unwin
Lexi Freiman is an Australian author and editor who graduated from Columbia's MFA program in 2012. She has been a recipient of the NYC Emerging Writer's Fellowship, an Aspen Words scholarship, and has published fiction in The Literary Review. Before moving to New York in 2010, Lexi worked as an actress for several years with the Bell Shakespeare Company, performing in As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, and Pericles, all at the Sydney Opera House. She lives in Manhattan.
Starting at a prestigious private Australian girls' school, fifteen-year-old Ziggy Klein is confronted with an alienating social hierarchy that hurls her into the arms of her grade's most radical feminists. Plagued by fantasies of offensive sexual stereotypes and a psychotherapist mother who thinks bum-pinching is fine if it comes from the heart chakra, Ziggy sets off on a journey of self-discovery that moves from the Sydney drag scene to the extremist underbelly of the internet to the coastal bohemia of a long-dissolved matriarchal cult.
As PC culture collides with her friends' morphing ideology and her parents' kinky sex life, Ziggy's understanding of gender, race, and class begins to warp. Ostracised at school, she seeks refuge in Donna Haraway's seminal feminist text, A Cyborg Manifesto, and discovers an indisputable alternative identity. Or so she thinks. A controversial Indian guru, a mean clique of blondes all called Cate, and her own Holocaust-surviving grandmother propel Ziggy through a series of misidentifications, culminating in a date-rape revenge plot so confused, it just might work.
The Lucky Galah
Tracy Sorensen is a writer, filmmaker and academic. She was born in Brisbane, grew up in Carnarvon on the north coast of Western Australia and lived in and around Newtown, Sydney, for about 15 years. She now lives in Bathurst with her partner Steve and a black Labrador (Bertie). The Lucky Galah is her first novel.
A magnificent novel about fate, Australia and what it means to be human... it just happens to be narrated by a galah called Lucky.
It's 1969 and a remote coastal town in Western Australia is poised to play a pivotal part in the moon landing. Perched on the red dunes of its outskirts looms the great Dish: a relay for messages between Apollo 11 and Houston, Texas.
Radar technician Evan Johnson and his colleagues stare, transfixed, at the moving images on the console -although his glossy young wife, Linda, seems distracted. Meanwhile the people of Port Badminton have gathered to watch Armstrong's small step on a single television sitting centre stage in the old theatre. The Kelly family, a crop of redheads, sit in rare silence. Roo shooters at the back of the hall squint through their rifles to see the tiny screen.
I'm in my cage on the Kelly's back verandah. I sit here, unheard, underestimated, biscuit crumbs on my beak. But fate is a curious thing. For just as Evan Johnson's story is about to end (and perhaps with a giant leap), my story prepares to take flight...