The Awards are the richest literary prize in the nation, with a tax-free prize pool of $600,000 in recognition of the outstanding literary talents of established and emerging Australian writers, illustrators, poets, and historians. The winners were chosen by an independent panel of judges.
Many of this year’s winners have made their debut appearance in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Across six categories, the collected works explore themes of family, culture, country, and belonging.
From cattle stations to the halls of high school and from country to the streets of Japan, the 2023 winners are a spectacular testament to the breadth of the Australian literary landscape, and the strength of Australian writing.
In congratulating the winners, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said “These prestigious awards reflect the Government’s commitment to supporting arts and culture. They build the international reputation of Australia’s writers by sharing our stories with the world,” he said.
“Our creative sector is central to Australia’s soul and national identity – and it is important that the Australian Government recognises the contribution writers and illustrators make to our cultural life,” said the Prime Minister.
“This year’s winners show the incredible depth and breadth of Australia’s literary talent,” said Minister for the Arts, The Hon. Tony Burke. “Stories like these allow us to learn about ourselves, understand each other and let the world get to know us.”
“It’s critical we support our authors to tell distinctively Australian stories, which is exactly why the Government is establishing Writers Australia,” said Minister Burke.
A total of 643 entries were received across six literary categories: fiction, non-fiction, young adult literature, children’s literature, poetry, and Australian history. The winner of each category receives $80,000. The winners are:
FICTION | Cold Enough for Snow | Jessica Au (Giramondo)
A young woman has arranged a holiday with her mother in Japan. All the while, they talk, or seem to talk. But uncertainties abound. With extraordinary skill, Au creates an enveloping atmosphere that expresses both the tenderness between mother and daughter, and the distance between them.
Jessica Au is a Melbourne based writer, who has worked as deputy editor at the quarterly journal Meanjin and as a fact-checker for Aeon magazine. Cold Enough for Snow (2022) has been translated into eighteen languages.
NON-FICTION | My Father and Other Animals | Sam Vincent (Black Inc Books)
Sam Vincent is a 20-something writer in the inner suburbs, scrabbling to make ends meet, when he gets a call from his mother: his father has stuck his hand in a woodchipper. When Sam returns to the family farm to help out, his life takes a new and unexpected direction. His memoir is about belonging, humility and regeneration – of land, family and culture.
Sam Vincent’s first book, Blood and Guts, was longlisted for the Walkley Book Award and in 2019 he won the Walkley Award for longform feature writing. He runs a cattle and fig farm in the Yass Valley, NSW.
YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE | The Greatest Thing | Sarah Winifred Searle (Allen & Unwin)
It’s the first day of Grade Ten, and Winifred is going to reinvent herself. In art class, she meets Oscar and April. But even though Winifred is breaking out of her shell, there’s one secret she can’t bear to admit to April and Oscar, or even to herself – and this lie threatens everything.
Sarah Winifred Searle originally hails from New England in the United States, and lives in Perth. Best known for vulnerable memoir and compassionate fiction, they write and draw comics and still like to make zines with their friends when they have time.
CHILDREN’S LITERATURE | Open Your Heart to Country | Jasmine Seymour (Magabala Books)
Told in English and Dharug, Open Your Heart to Country is a moving account of re-connection to Country from a First Nations perspective. With exquisite illustrations and soft, lilting text, it appeals to the very young, while sharing a deeper message for older readers.
Jasmine Seymour is a Dharug woman and descendant of Maria Lock, who was the daughter of Yarramundi, the Boorooberongal elder who had met Governor Phillip on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Jasmine is a primary school teacher in the Hawkesbury area of NSW.
POETRY | At the Altar of Touch | Gavin Yuan Gao (University of Queensland Press)
From the 2020 winner of the Thomas Shapcott Award comes a sophisticated, impressive, and rich collection of poetry that unpacks the complexity of family, grief, and cross-cultural and queer identity. A scintillating and exhilarating collection from an accomplished and distinctive new voice.
Born in Beijing, Gavin Yuan Gao is a genderqueer, bilingual immigrant poet who grew up in Beijing and Brisbane. They live in Brisbane and At the Altar of Touch is their first book.
AUSTRALIAN HISTORY | Unmaking Angas Downs | Shannyn Palmer (Melbourne University Press)
Unmaking Angas Downs traces a history of colonisation in Central Australia by tracking the rise and demise of a rural enterprise across half a century, as well as the complex and creative practices that transformed a cattle station into Country.
Shannyn Palmer is a community-engaged practitioner, researcher, and writer with a PhD in History from the ANU, living and working on the Ancestral lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. While living in Mparntwe and working with Anangu, recording the stories that form the foundation of this book, Shannyn worked for the A?a Iritija Project, travelling between seven communities in the southwest of Central Australia working with Anangu to develop and maintain the community-based archive.
The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards acknowledge the importance of Australian literature and history. As set out in the National Cultural Policy – Revive, 2023 is the first year that the Awards have been managed by Creative Australia, reflecting the Australian Government’s commitment to supporting Australian literature and the role it plays in connecting Australians to our culture, history, and values.
“It’s crucial that we celebrate the achievements of our writers and illustrators in producing work that allows us to reflect on and explore issues affecting all Australians,” said Creative Australia CEO Adrian Collette AM. “Literature is at the heart of our understanding of our place in the world, and I’m delighted to be able to acknowledge the contributions of these exceptional artists and thinkers.”
The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards were established in 2008 to recognise individual excellence and the contribution Australian authors make to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life. Initially with two categories of non-fiction and fiction, in 2010 the young adult and children’s literature categories were introduced, with the addition of the Poetry category in 2012 and the incorporation of the pre-existing Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History.
For more information on the Awards, including this year’s shortlists, winners and judging panel comments, visit: www.creative.gov.au for details.
Image: Gavin Yuan Gao, Jessica Au, Sarah Winifred Searle, Jasmine Seymour, Hon. Tony Burke MP, Shannyn Palmer, Sam Vincent and Susan Templeman MP – courtesy of Creative Australia