Melissa Lucashenko wins top prize at Queensland Premier's Literary Awards with 'risky' novel

The $25,000 award for Too Much Lip follows her Miles Franklin win earlier this year

Melissa Lucashenko’s novel Too Much Lip has scooped up the top prize at this year’s Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards.

The Goorie author can now add the $25,000 Queensland Premier’s award for a work of state significance to her accolades, following her Miles Franklin win in June this year.

The award was announced along with 15 others at a ceremony at the State Library of Queensland on Tuesday night.

Too Much Lip follows protagonist Kerry Salter as she heads to her home town in rural New South Wales on a stolen motorbike to see her grandfather before he dies.

Judges described the novel as “an original, contemporary and ambitious work” that “crackles with energy”.

“Written with insight and humour this is gritty and clever storytelling which tackles serious issues and gives voice to those often silenced and marginalised,” they said.

Lucashenko told Guardian Australia in July that the novel was “risky” as it “speak[s] truth to power” in its portrayal of the working class – particularly the Indigenous working class.

Too Much Lip was shortlisted alongside Trent Dalton’s bestselling debut Boy Swallows Universe, Wintering by Krissy Kneen, Meditations with Passing Water by Jake Goetz and The Night Dragon by Matthew Condon.

Although Lucashenko’s novel won the top prize for a “work of State Significance”, it came second to Carrie Tiffany’s Exploded View in the prize for fiction. Judges said Tiffany’s work was “an exquisite yet devastating rendering of a broken family” in which “every word is searing and honest.”

Other shortlisted novels were Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone, Daughter of Bad Times by Rohan Wilson, and Kristina Olsson’s imaginative reworking of the construction of the Sydney Opera House, Shell.

Mary Hoban’s “gripping” biography of the life of colonial-era Tasmanian woman Julia Sorell Arnold, An Unconventional Wife, won both the award for non-fiction and the award for history, worth $15,000 and $10,000 each.

Adani, Following Its Dirty Footsteps: A Personal Story by Lindsay Simpson took out the people’s choice award. The shortlist for that prize included both Dalton, Lucashenko and six other fiction and non-fiction titles.

Poets Ellen van Neerven and Ella Jeffery were awarded the two available young publishers and writers prizes.

Van Neerven’s work was noted for its “command of language and storytelling that reveals a long-standing dedication to craft”. Van Neerven won the David Unaipon award for unpublished Indigenous writers as part of the Queensland literary awards in 2013, the Indigenous writers prize in the NSW premier’s literary awards in 2016 and was shortlisted for the Stella prize in 2015. Meanwhile, Jeffery was described as having “a sharp ear for the musicality of language”.

Three of the 15 winners announced on Tuesday were Indigenous writers, with Alison Whittaker’s collection, Blakwork, taking out the prize for poetry.

Prizes for digital literature, children’s and young adult literature, and emerging writers were also awarded.

State librarian and CEO Vicki McDonald said in a statement on Tuesday that the calibre of entries was “extremely high”.

The awards offered a total prize pool of $253,500 and have been supported by the Queensland government since 2015, after being controversially scrapped by premier Campbell Newman in 2012 and kept aloft by a coalition of literary figures in the Queensland community.


Stephanie Convery

The GuardianTramp

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