Five of the eight winners in Australia’s richest annual literary prize pool are first-time authors this year, with a novella little more than 100 pages long collecting the $100,000 Victorian prize for literature.
Cold Enough for Snow by Melbourne writer Jessica Au also won the fiction category at the Victorian premier’s literary awards on Thursday night, bringing her total winnings to $125,000 for a book the Guardian’s critic Imogen Dewey described as “graceful and precise”.
The judges praised Au’s novella, which follows the finely nuanced relationship between mother and daughter as they travel through Japan, as “quietly powerful” and a “deftly woven novel from a writer in command of her craft”.
The book has already exposed Au to an international audience, having won the inaugural biennial Novel prize in 2020, an international award that guarantees publication in the UK, Ireland, US, Australia and New Zealand.
The slim volume was unanimously selected from some 1,500 entries to win the Novel prize, with the New York Times comparing Au’s talent to that of Albert Camus.
Cold Enough for Snow is the second book from Au, who works as an editor and bookseller. Her first book, Cargo, was published 12 years ago.
Among the categories of nonfiction, Indigenous writing, poetry and young adult categories, new writers dominate this year’s Victorian premier’s literary awards.
Turkish-Australian essayist Eda Gunaydin, a University of Wollongong lecturer, won the nonfiction prize for her debut collection, Root & Branch: Essays on Inheritance.
Lystra Rose, a writer of the Guugu Yimithirr, Birri Gubba and Erub nations and Scottish descent, won the Indigenous writing prize for her debut young adult fantasy fiction novel The Upwelling, which weaves the language and practices of the Yugambeh people into the narrative.
The young adult prize was won by New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based writer Kate Murray for her debut novel We Who Hunt the Hollow, also a fantasy novel.
A collection of poems about family, loss, heartbreak, history and erasure, collectively titled At the Altar of Touch, won Beijing-born Brisbane writer Gavin Yuan Gao the poetry category.
The play The Return, by Saibai Island (Torres Strait) dramatist John Harvey, won the drama prize. The work attracted highly positive reviews when it debuted at Melbourne’s Malthouse theater during last year’s Rising festival.
All of the category winners collect $25,000 each.
The $15,000 Unpublished Manuscript award was won by Melbourne writer Mick Cummins for One Divine Night which “explores homelessness, social systems and family complexities”, while the $2,000 People’s Choice award went to Karlie Noon and Krystal De Napoli’s Astronomy: Sky Country, which explores the long history of astronomy in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Victoria’s creative industries minister, Steve Dimopoulos said this year’s winners reflect the diversity of literary talent from across the country.
“Writers play a vital role in our creative industries and cultural life, telling the stories that shape and reflect who we are,” he said.
Caro Llewellyn, the chief executive of the Wheeler Centre, which administers the awards on behalf of the Victorian premier, said the fact that debut works accounted for five of the eight winning works were a sign that “fresh perspectives and compelling new voices are being amplified. in the Australian literary community”.