Jennifer Down has won the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award for her novel, Bodies of Light, published by Text Publishing. As one of the youngest authors to be honoured with the Award in its 65-year history – the youngest being Randolph Stow for in 1958 at 23 – Jennifer Down has established herself as a potent voice in the new generation of Australian writers.
On winning the award, Ms Down said: “It’s a profound honour to be awarded the Miles Franklin Literary Award—I’m still pinching myself. To be longlisted, and then shortlisted, among authors whose works I’ve long read and admired, already felt like a stroke of exceptional fortune. 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’.”
“Bodies of Light took me a long time to write, and, many times over, I doubted I would finish it at all. It is not an easy book. It demands quite a lot from the reader, I think; not in the sense of being academic or intellectually challenging, but in what it asks the reader to sit with and witness. I’m grateful to the judges for their willingness to do so, and for considering this a story worthy of recognition,” added Ms Down.
Established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Miles Franklin, for the “advancement, improvement and betterment of Australian literature”, the Miles Franklin Literary Award recognises a novel of “the highest literary merit” that presents “Australian life in any of its phases”. Perpetual serves as Trustee for the Award.
Ms Down will receive $60,000 in prize money. Her novel was chosen from a shortlist that included two-time Miles Franklin shortlisted author Michael Mohammed Ahmad, two-time Miles Franklin winner Michelle de Kretser, award-winning novelist Alice Pung and self-published writer Michael Winkler.
When describing this year’s winning novel, the judges said, “Bodies of Light invites readers to witness the all-too-often concealed, destructive forces of institutionalised care. With extraordinary skill and compassion, Down has written an important book which speaks to an urgent issue in contemporary Australian life.”
The 2022 judging panel comprised of author and literary critic, Dr Bernadette Brennan; literary scholar, Dr Mridula Nath Chakraborty; book critic, Dr James Ley; NSW Mitchell Librarian and Chair, Richard Neville; and author and editor, Dr Elfie Shiosaki.
The 2022 winner announcement was streamed live on 20 July and can be viewed via the following link: YouTube.
For the third consecutive year the ABC is the award’s media partner.
Join the Miles Franklin conversation on social media:
Jennifer Down - Winner
Bodies of Light
Author photo credit: Leah Jing McIntosh
Jennifer Down is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Age, Saturday Paper, Australian Book Review and Literary Hub. She was named a Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year consecutively in 2017 and 2018. Our Magic Hour, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Her second book, Pulse Points, was the winner of the 2018 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and the 2018 Steele Rudd Award for a Short Story Collection in the Queensland Literary Awards, and was shortlisted for a 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Award. She lives in Naarm/Melbourne.
In Bodies of Light, Jennifer Down crafts a story of almost impossible regeneration from the ashes of unbearable pain and loss. The five-year-old Maggie, who will come to be known to us as Josie and Holly, undergoes a harrowing journey through state care, only to emerge with a new self. Through Maggie’s unreliable narration, we learn about her unstable life of being and becoming, and, as readers, we become increasingly unsettled ourselves. With ethical precision, Down insists that we do not look away from the destructive consequences of life on the fringes, that we do not render invisible those who come through, miraculously, despite decades spent in the shadows of institutionalised neglect, socially sanctioned loneliness, unforgivable poverty and the attendant abuse that accompanies these conditions.
Can a sense of self exist if there are no records of a life? If there is no-one to remember? Maggie wrestles with such questions. And more than once is almost destroyed by them. Ultimately, however, Bodies of Light is a novel of affirmation, resilience and survival, told through an astonishing voice that reinvents itself from age six to sixty. Through recounting her story and recording her memories, Maggie builds herself a body and realises that finally she is known.