Tara June Winch has taken out the top prize in Australia’s most prestigious literary award for 2020 for her stunning novel, The Yield.
The Miles Franklin Literary Award was announced during a live Youtube broadcast hosted by ABC Radio Sydney/ The Bookshelf‘s Cassie McCullagh. The virtual event was another of the many examples we have seen in 2020 of the way the arts and culture have had to adapt to our changed circumstances.
These changing and challenging circumstances were at the forefront of the discussion surrounding the prize, as the opening comments brought focus back to Franklin’s hope that the prize money would allow writers to have the financial freedom to write, and to advance the literary culture of Australia. With so many events cancelled, and publications pushed back in 2020, this discussion was a timely one.
In her acceptance speech, Tara June Winch emphasised the importance of respect, and lamented the lack of respect in the modern Australian vernacular. She used the opportunity to highlight issues relating to Indigenous deaths in custody, and the recent destruction of a sacred site by mining company Rio Tinto, saying that “we as Australians are blind and silent, and in the willingness to be both, we are cruel.”
Winch’s novel highlights the importance of language, in particular the preservation of the Wiradjuri language. One of the central characters in The Yield, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi compiles a dictionary for his granddaughter, protagonist August. Further, it is through language that August is able to fully explore the legacy of colonisation, trauma and shame which goes back to the establishment of a Mission on the site of their family home. The Yield is truly a remarkable book and will be a cornerstone for important conversations to come. It explores notions of family, environmentalism, history, and race with such heart and passion.
In her acceptance speech, she also highlighted the fact that 2020 is the first time since the prize’s inception in 1954 that two Indigenous writers have been included on the shortlist for the prize, giving a shoutout to Tony Birch whose book The White Girl was also in the running for the award. She expressed her hopes that it would not be the last time, and that this would be a portent for shortlists to come. Winch, a Wiradjuri woman, is only the fourth Indigenous winner of the Miles Franklin Award in the history of the prize.
That the announcement of this prize will lead more Australians to read The Yield may perhaps be the most important outcome of today’s announcement, second only to the fact that the $60,000 prize money will allow this talented Australian writer to write more books.
Tara June Winch’s The Yield is published by Penguin Random House. Order you copy from Booktopia HERE.