SPN Book of the Year 2021 winners announced
The Small Press Network (SPN) has announced the joint winners of the 2021 SPN Network Book of the Year Award (BOTY).
The winning books, both essay collections, are:
- Echoes (Shu-Ling Chua, first published by Somekind Press)
- We Are Speaking in Code (Tanya Vavilova, Brio Books).
‘Both titles exhibit beautiful and engaging writing, genuine and heartfelt examinations of identity and culture, and nuanced explorations of their themes,’ said the judges. ‘Each winner also showcases experimental forms and the power of small presses to bring unique stories to the world.’ The winners were chosen from a shortlist of six announced in October.
‘Echoes stands out in its form as something experimental and unique, unlikely to be published by larger mainstream publishers,’ said the judges of Chua’s book. ‘It is unapologetically Chinese-Australian in an industry that remains starkly white. The use of untranslated Mandarin and Cantonese 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.’
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.’
Of Vavilova’s book the judges said: ‘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.’
Brio Books publisher David Henley thanked the judges for recognising both books. ‘We’re thrilled to have published Tanya Vavilova, who is such a talented nonfiction and fiction writer,’ he said. ‘We Are Speaking in Code is a brave exploration of her lived experience and we are so proud that she is receiving this reward.’
This year’s SPN BOTY award was judged by author, editor and university lecturer Alexandra Dane; author and university lecturer Penni Russon; freelance editor and writer, president of Editors WA and director of business development for Underground Writers Jess Gately; and owners and founders of Amplify Bookstore Marina Sano Litchfield & Jing Xuan Teo.
The award was presented on Friday, 26 November during an Instagram Live event hosted by the Wheeler Centre as part of its Next Big Thing series.