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After naming 30 wide-ranging titles for this year’s shortlist, the 2021 Prime Minister’s Literary Award winners across all six genre categories have been announced at the Sydney Opera House.
The winners will share a total prize pool of $600,000 – $80,000 for each winner and $5,000 each for shortlisted entries. Tasmanian author Amanda Lohrey has won the $80,000 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for her seventh novel, The Labyrinth — capping a banner year in which she also won the $60,000 Miles Franklin Literary Award.
The Labyrinth tells the story of Erica Marsden, a mother grieving for her son who has been incarcerated for negligent homicide. After moving to a small town in south-east New South Wales to be closer to her son’s prison, Erica becomes reclusive and obsessed with the idea of building a labyrinth to make sense of her world.
Judges described the 74-year-old Tasmanian author and academic as “a writer of uncompromising artistic purpose who is never content for the novel to be mere entertainment”.
The Stranger Artist: Life at the Edge of Kimberley Painting by Quentin Sprague (Hardie Grant Publishing) won for Non-fiction, which ‘elucidates important aspects of Indigenous culture and explores the conflicting culture of the gardiya – white people – as seen through the eyes of lovers of the arts.
The Australian History award went to Grace Karsken’s People of the River: Lost Worlds of Early Australia (Allen & Unwin) which ‘crafted an epic history of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River,’ said the judges. Stephen Edgar’s The Strangest Place, New and Selected Poems took out the Poetry category.
Two winners both published by Walker Books Australia took out Children’s literature this year. Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai is ‘a graphic and prose novel and How to Make a Bird by Meg McKinlay, with illustrations by Matt Ottley.
Guyana-born screenwriter and first-time novelist Cath Moore took out Young adult literature with Metal Fish, Falling Snow . The same book also won Moore the $15,000 Young Adult Book Award at the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards. A touching and highly original portrait of a young girl’s search for identity, the work was praised by the judges as having a strong protagonist with ‘uncompromised voice’ and a ‘multi-layered, poetic work’ that ‘allows readers significant insight into the interplay of despair and hope that characterises being human.’