In August, SBS Voices called for the next generation of bold new voices to tell stories that reflect the diversity of modern Australia. Writers from all over the country responded and we received more than 2,000 entries in our inaugural SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition.
The competition was created to support the discovery and development of emerging talent. Stories flooded in from every generation — offering snippets of what it was like growing up in the 40s, 50s and 60s, as well as windows into young lives from the outback, city and the suburbia.
Entries were judged by acclaimed author Melissa Lucashenko, winner of the 2019 Miles Franklin award for her novel Too Much Lip, and Benjamin Law, creator and co-writer of the award-winning SBS TV program The Family Law and editor of Growing Up Queer in Australia.
These intimate, clever, and often emotionally complex stories shine a light on everyday life across different cultural and religious backgrounds, sexuality; experiences of neurodivergence and disability.
We are pleased to announce the following winners:
1st place, Alana Hicks, $5000 prize
2nd place, Nadia Johansen, $3000 prize
Highly commended: Amy Duong and Nakul Legha, $1000 prize each.
We’d also like to extend congratulations to the other shortlisted writers whose entries made it to the top 10. They are (in no particular order): Karla Hart, Jason Phu, Sita Walker, Miranda Jakich, Trent Wallace, and Tania Ogier.
"This competition attracted massive interest...from all over Australia, including dozens of First Nations entrants,'' Lucashenko said.
"Judges were looking for courageous and original voices, writing with a sharp take on modern Australian life, and with nuanced views on our multicultural realities. The mix was so powerful and so striking that choosing the shortlist was a real problem. Scores of excellent pieces had to be set aside, many of them of publishable quality.
"What this competition showed was the strength, vitality and brilliance of writers who are mostly working from outside the (so-called) mainstream. The winners stood out from an exceptional field. We are proud to award them their prizes, and eager to read their future work."
On the winning entry by Sydney-based writer Alana Hicks, Lucashenko said, “This memoir piece is a fierce blow struck in self-defence against casual racism…The author’s ultimate decision to remove her placatory masks brings a joyful defiance and strength to this winning entry.”
Benjamin Law calls Hicks “an important new voice in Australian writing”.
“While every paragraph – covering violence, racism and class – hints at a much bigger story to tell, this is also a self-contained gut-punch of a story offering hard-won wisdom, strength and perspective,” he says.
On taking out the first prize of the competition, 38-year-old Hicks says, “It’s a vulnerable process to put your history and your words on page or on a screen for other people to judge… It’s taken me a long time to be OK with accepting myself and not really caring if other people do or not.”
Hicks, a Papua New Guinean-Australian digital content maker, points out the importance of having platforms for people from under-represented demographics to “explore and express” themselves.
“If those platforms are not available or not made available…we will miss out on a massive proportion of fundamental stories. Stories that fundamental to our society and to the fabric of our living existence,” she says.
Runner up Nadia Johansen, a Murri woman who is a second-year creative writing student at Queensland University of Technology, wrote about the “ongoing triggers for Aboriginal trauma that exist in everyday Australia” and believes in the value of diverse storytelling.
“Part of the reason we read is to experience things that we could never experience otherwise. To understand things that we couldn’t have possibly understood,” says Johansen.
Lucashenko said: "This piece illuminates some of the many ongoing triggers for Aboriginal trauma that exist in everyday Australia and what the fight against them can cost. A beautifully written and culturally rich entry"; while Law called the piece: "An elegant and matter-of-fact depiction of the toll history takes on the present-day mind and body, and an insight into what so many experience in Australian schools and university campuses right now."
Marshall Heald, Director of TV and Online Content at SBS, said: “We’re thrilled that Australians have embraced the SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition in its first year, with inspiring stories that engage and challenge our view of ‘Growing up in diverse Australia’.
"It was fantastic to receive so many submissions, making the task of choosing our winners a challenge for our judges, and now we're excited to share their unique stories with all Australians via SBS Voices."
SBS Voices is committed to championing the voices of diverse Australians and continues to support the discovery and development of emerging talent and contribute to greater diversity in Australian storytelling.
Find out more about the winners here.