26th November, 2021

The Book of the Year Award 2021: Winner Announcement

We are excited to announce the winners of the 2021 SPN Book of the Year Award. That’s right, winners, the judges decided to award two BOTY winners this year! They are Echoes (2020) by Shu-Ling Chua and We are Speaking in Code (Brio Books 2020) by Tanya Vavilova. 

The judges said ‘both titles exhibit beautiful and engaging writing, genuine and heartfelt examinations of identity and culture, and nuanced explorations of their themes. Each winner also showcases experimental forms and the power of small presses to bring unique stories to the world.’

The awards were presented tonight during an Instagram Live event hosted by The Wheeler Centre as part of its Next Big Thing series.

Brio Books publisher David Henley said, ‘thank you to the judges for recognising both of these books. We’re thrilled to have published Tanya Vavilova, who is such a talented nonfiction and fiction writer. We Are Speaking in Code is a brave exploration of her lived experience and we are so proud that she is receiving this reward.’

Shu-Ling Chua said, ‘when I learnt Echoes had co-won the SPN BOTY award, I ran to tell Mum and burst into tears! I thank the judges, series curator Fran Berry, my wonderful editor Camha Pham, and everyone who has given my little book their time and a home. I hope my essays contribute to expanding ideas of “Asian-Australian literature” and encourage more multilingual writing. Small presses, literary journals and zines foster creative risk-taking and are essential to a vibrant literary landscape that is genuinely inclusive and just.’

Read interviews with Tanya and Shu-Ling on the SPN website.

More from the judges

By Shu-Ling Chua 
First published by Somekind Press, by here

Echoes stands out in its form as something experimental and unique, unlikely to be published by larger mainstream publishers. It is unapologetically Chinese-Australian in an industry that remains starkly white. The use of untranslated Chinese within parts of the text establishes a cultural barrier between non-Chinese readers and the author, affecting moments of cultural othering that stays with such readers long after the book is finished. At the same time these moments remind readers that we do not have to come from the same cultural background or speak the same language to empathise with and understand one another. Identity and culture are examined through a process of research, understanding and language that the reader is invited to participate in in order to gain a deeper appreciation of the text. Overall Chua takes readers on a personal journey of discovery as she rediscovers her personal identity through family, music, clothes and place.’

We are Speaking in Code
By Tanya Vavilova
Published by Brio Books

We are Speaking in Code explores the themes of family, identity and belonging in a way that is uncommon among the contemporary corpus of writing on such subjects. Vavilova keeps you on the edge of every experience, always almost participating but never fully inside any experience but her own. Intersecting identities act as the lens through which every subject in the collection is explored bringing a fascinating perspective to the essays. The book encourages readers to reflect on their own positionality and subjectivity and how we exist in relation to events, cultures and institutions. Vavilova’s exploration of life on the margins stretches across sexuality, migrant identity and mental health, in a book dedicated to misfits. Her voice and approach to the subject matter is unique and fresh with a poignance that lingers long after putting the book down.’

This year’s judging panel

  • Dr Alexandra Dane, an author, editor, and a lecturer at the University of Melbourne. 
  • Jess Gately, a freelance editor and writer, director of business development for Underground Writers, and the president of Editors WA. 
  • Dr Penni Russon, an author and a lecturer at the University of Sydney. 
  • Marina Sano Litchfield & Jing Xuan Teo, the owners and founders of Amplify Bookstore

Thoughts from our sponsors

The sponsors of the award are the Australian Booksellers Association, ArtsHub and Bibliotheca.

‘The diversity of books in the shortlist this year was exciting and ArtsHub is thrilled to support these two very different writers from two dynamic independent publishers.’

Director of content at ArtsHub Group, George Dunford

‘Independent bookshops are champions of Australian literature, and the Australian Booksellers Association is proud to again support the Small Press Network’s Book of the Year Prize. It is wonderful to celebrate our incredible emerging talent as we emerge from the ravages of COVID-19. In a time of fake news and disinformation, books have never been more important.’

Australian Booksellers Association CEO, Robbie Egan

‘Small presses are the building blocks of Australian literature and Bibliotheca is proud to be able to support them through this award.’

Bibliotheca’s director of content acquisition and strategy APAC, Malcolm Neil

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