Melbourne author Jessica Oh has won the $100,000 Victorian Literary Prize, the Victorian Premier Literature Awards (VPLAs), Australia’s most prestigious literary awards, for her short but “brilliant” novel.
VPLA jury members are “open[ing] “Breaking new frontiers in Australian literature,” the novel won a prize of $25,000 in the fiction category on Thursday night, bringing Au’s total prize pool to $125,000.
At just 98 pages long, Cold Enough for Snow is told by an unnamed young woman on vacation in Japan with her aging mother, revealing both the tenderness and distance of their relationship.
In 2020, this book won its first novel award. This is her US$10,000 ($14,000) biennial award for an unpublished manuscript open to writers around the world, including publications in Australia and New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and North America. . “It’s Snowing Cold” has since been translated into 18 languages.
“This book carries all the weight of an author who perfectly commands her craft,” the VPLA judges wrote in their report.
In the Fiction category, Au’s books include Sophie Cunningham’s This Devastating Fever, Paul Dara Rosa’s Exciting and Vivid Inner Life, Gail Jones’ Salonika Burning, Brendan Corry’s The Signal Line, I opposed Yumna Kasab’s The Lovers.
Ohr told ABC Arts that he was “shocked” and “excited” to win the fiction award.
“It’s an incredibly intimidating shortlist, but it was great to be on that list in the first place,” she says.
In her acceptance speech at a ceremony at The Edge in Melbourne’s Federation Square, Au called her victory a “life-changing moment.”
“Prizes, they fade. You’re left with a normal life and normal time. It’s just time to think, time to read, time to be. And for me, my cat’s It’s time to look deeply into the eyes, and maybe, if you’re lucky, some sentences will come out of that time, and then you’ll be able to say everything you couldn’t say in a speech like this.”
Five of the VPLA’s eight winners are nonfiction award winner Turkish-Australian author Eda Gunaydin’s Root & Branch: Essays on Inheritance and poetry book winner Gavin Yuan Gao’s Collection At the Altar of contact.
Torres Strait Islander playwright John Harvey won a drama award for his play “The Return” about the repatriation of indigenous ancestors at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theater last May.
time to write
I was folding the laundry when I got a call that I had won a fiction award.
“So I stopped folding laundry,” she laughs.
“My partner was camping at the time, so all I had to do was wait for him to walk up the hill and give me a call.”
Now that the news is out, she plans to celebrate with her friends over burgers. (According to a 2022 Macquarie University study, Australian writers earn an average of $18,200 each year.)
“For most writers, the prize money is just time. So, let’s be honest with you, it’s a fancy hamburger, things like living expenses, day-to-day things, food, and rent, but it’s really time to write. ,” she says.
It took Au almost ten years to write her second novel, Cold Enough for Snow. Her first work, Cargo, was published in her 2011 when she was just 25 years old. She is 36 years old now. During that time, she worked for the literary magazine Meanjin and her Aeon, and traveled around Europe for nine months.
Cold Enough for Snow was born out of a short story she wrote while living in Sarajevo in 2012 about a mother and daughter on vacation in Japan. A few years later, an unsuccessful attempt to write her collection of short stories brought her back to it.
Like her narrator, who is also a writer, Au admits that she worries every day whether she can create anything of value.
“I think it’s a natural part of writing: questioning what you’re doing,” she says.
“You’re always looking to see if what you’re writing sounds true, if it resonates. I don’t want to lose it.”
The Cold Enough for Snow manuscript was rejected by two publishers before it won an award for best novel. Au appreciates her publisher’s willingness to take her risks, saying the book’s length and “quietness” may have put off less experimental publishers. there is
But what she’s most excited about is the next life of her translated novel. especially in China.
“That means certain members of my family can read it,” she says.
Mother and daughter
Au is the first to admit that “a lot doesn’t happen” on Cold Enough for Snow. Instead, her novel traverses her narrator’s memories, including her college days and a previous trip to Japan with her partner.
It is an interiors book that examines the details of paintings and ceramics to talk about how the relationship between mother and daughter changes as they age. How the story becomes distorted or untold over time. and immigration experience.
While the mother and daughter travel, there is no rich conversation the narrator is hoping for: dining, sightseeing, art appreciation. But Au said there is a “deeper kind of dialogue” going on behind the scenes.
Au says mother-daughter relationships are rich fodder for fiction.
“It’s very difficult and loaded and very complicated. It’s one of those relationships where I think there can be a lot of tension and conflict alongside a kind of deep well of incredible love and obligation.
“I think part of the growth that everyone goes through is watching them [mothers] As people, we see them as historical. But because you have a close emotional and physical bond with them, that realization comes with a lot of sensitivity and tenderness and hurt – you understand what the world has done to them. start to
The narrator talks to his mother about art, as a way of indirectly talking to her about textiles hanging in museums, exhibitions of Impressionist paintings, or landscape painters’ work on large hardcovers.
“Maybe by talking about the painting, the piece of cloth, etc., she’s saying something about the story or their relationship… I think that’s pretty offensive if I say it directly,” says Au. .
“There’s something nice about proposing it and letting the reader feel it for themselves, and that’s something I certainly like when I read.”
As the narrator says, the author chose Japan as a vacation destination in the novel. However, the narrator has visited Japan before, so she can act as a guide for the Hong Kong-born mother.
“It’s part of East Asia, so it’s not the same place, but it has certain cultural ties and is familiar enough to jog the memories between them,” says Au.
The setting is familiar enough for the narrator and her mother to share memories, yet reveal the distance and fragmentation between them.
“That mix between knowledge and fragmentation is a real hallmark of growing up in immigrant homes, and it’s not always one or the other. Sometimes it’s two at the exact same time.”
Full list of winners
Victorian Literature Award ($100,000)
Cold enough to snow by Jessica Au (Giramondo)
Fiction Award ($25,000)
Cold enough to snow by Jessica Au (Giramondo)
Nonfiction Award ($25,000)
Root & Branch: Essays on Inheritance by Eda Gunaydin (NewSouth Books)
Award for Indigenous Writings ($25,000)
Upwelling by Listora Rose (Hachette)
Drama Award ($25,000)
The Return of John Harvey
Poetry Award ($25,000)
At the Altar of Contact Gavin Yuan Gao (University of Queensland Press)
Young Adult Writing Award ($25,000)
Adults We Hunt the Hollow by Kate Murray (Hardy Grant)
Unpublished Manuscript Award ($15,000)
One Divine Night by Mick Cummins
People’s Choice Award ($2,000)
Astronomy: Sky Country (Thames & Hudson) by Karlie Noon and Krystal De Napoli