• SBS Emerging Writers' Competition 2021 Judges; Tara June Winch and Behrouz Boochani. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
We are thrilled to announce our EWC judges for 2021, Tara June Winch and Behrouz Boochani. Two amazing writers who are passionate about elevating the voices of emerging writers.
Zoe Victoria

27 Jul 2021 - 8:34 AM  UPDATED 8 Sep 2021 - 3:39 PM


The SBS Emerging Writers' Competition is back for a second year. If you're a writer with an untold story that fits the 2021 theme of 'Between Two Worlds', now is your chance to put your storytelling skills to the test.

The 2021 judges, award-winning authors Tara June Winch and Behrouz Boochani, are passionate about elevating the voices of emerging writers.

The pair maintain a long-distance friendship between France, where Winch lives, and Christchurch, New Zealand where Boochani has made his home.

Winch is a Wiradjuri author, whose latest novel The Yield won numerous accolades including the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award as well as the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the People's Choice Award and Book of the Year at the 2020 NSW Premier's Literary Awards. 

Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian writer, journalist and filmmaker. His memoir No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison was written in secrecy while he was being held in the Manus Island Detention Centre from 2013 to 2019. The book won the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature. 

The pair, who are in regular contact since meeting at a writers' festival in 2019, are looking forward to unearthing new talent as they read the competition entries. They share a creative friendship that spans many interests. 

"We talk a lot about both being Indigenous. He's an Indigenous Kurdish man. And we talk about comparative literature a lot,'' says Winch.

"We talk about walking, because we both used walking as a writing tool."

The pair co-wrote a meditative piece about nostalgia and home 'When We Talk About Time' for the 80th anniversary issue of Meanjin.

Their friendship also has a lighter side. "All the photos I've shared have been of my dog, and he wants more,'' says Winch.  

Tara June Winch

Tara June Winch's advice for storytellers is that you don't need to be a skilled or experienced writer to enter the competition. 

"Just enter it. Even if you're not confident in your English skills. Put it on the page. You've got a story, write it,'' the author says. 

Winch's critically acclaimed first novel, Swallow the Air started its life as a short story entered into a competition, which won second prize. Unbeknownst to her, one of the judges passed on her short story to a publisher, who encouraged her to turn it into a manuscript - and the rest is history. 

"Even if you don't win this prize, even if you don't [get] runner up, even if you don't get contacted by a publisher after you win, you don't know what Behrouz and I are going to do with that story. You don't know who we're going to tell. There is just everything to gain from entering this prize and absolutely nothing to lose."

And she reminds entrants that you can be an emerging writer at any point in your life.

"It's really important to recognise that you can be an emerging writer at 60. You've lived a full, long life. You've got a lot more perspective on the world than a 19-year-old that hasn't really got past the confession stage of the story. I want a story by a senior citizen, particularly our elders.

"We're looking for heart and truth, and just a good yarn."

"Don't worry if you have never written a story before. Don't mind if you've never written it down. Don't be scared that there are rules that you're supposed to follow, because for sure, Behrouz and I aren't looking at that. We're looking for heart and truth, and just a good yarn."

Winch knows that the best stories are the ones that haven't been told yet. She's encouraging writers from all walks of life to give it a go. 

"I think we'd both love to see first-generation, second-generation Australians, both that have to be the family translator. We want to see those new writers and new voices from the diaspora. We just want to hear the whole story of Australia. We want voices from our multicultural Australia. We want First Nations voices, we want these emerging voices."

And if you're worried about finding your voice as a writer, Winch has some pearls of wisdom for you.

"It's all your regret, all your guilt, all your shame. It's that love you can't let go of. It's your first absolutely soul destroying heartbreak. That's your voice."

"It's there. It lives inside you. It's the voice at 3:00 AM that's telling you to live a better life. It's all your regret, all your guilt, all your shame. It's that love you can't let go of. It's your first absolutely soul-destroying heartbreak. That's your voice. It's you as a child feeling injured by something your mother said, or the way your aunty pinched you, or the way someone looked as they left the door. That is your voice."

She's urging you to use that voice and share your story.

"Just inundate us, flood us with stories. We're ready for it."

Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani decided to become a judge for the 2021 SBS Emerging Writer's competition because he wants to inspire young people.

"When I was 18 years old...I feel that I wasted my life... because probably I didn't have a good teacher,'' he says.

"I didn't have someone in my life to actually inspire me. That's why, when I see young people, I want to just share my experience with them."

Boochani's writing experiences have taught him that the best way to improve is to simply write.

"That is something that is really difficult to teach. The best way to write is just write.

"When you think about a story a lot, sometimes it makes it difficult to write it down. That's why I think the best way to write is just write. Writing itself is the way to improve your writing."

But being a great writer is about far more than simply putting pen to paper.

"I think people should work. I don't mean writing. I mean work. Different jobs. Get a job and work. And just experience new things. If you don't experience life, if you don't spend time, if you don't share your moments with the different layers of society, if you don't experience people...you become a narrow-minded writer.

"I think people should work. I don't mean writing. I mean work. Different jobs. Get a job and work. And just experience new thing[s]."

"So, for me, alongside reading and writing, which are very important, I think life is important. Literature is about life...literature is life.

"I mean a good story is a simple story. And simple writing, but with a deep layer."

The act of storytelling is particularly powerful for people from diverse backgrounds, says Boochani.

"People say that, 'We like migrants.' But they always talk about food and different colours and they welcome that. They like that. But I think the most important thing with diversity is that we hear the different perspectives and new ideas.

"But I think the most important thing with diversity is that we hear the different perspectives and new ideas."

"We need people who have new ideas. I think that is very important with diversity. We shouldn't make it superficial."

This year's competition theme 'Between Two Worlds: Stories from a diverse Australia' allows for creative interpretation. The 'worlds' may be material or spiritual. They may be cultural or social, or psychological. Writers could be feeling the pull of two different cultures, or identities, or social groups. There is beauty, and there may also be challenges. 

The experience of being caught between worlds is one that Behrouz himself is familiar with.

"I'm a big example of this. To become a refugee, actually, or leave your country or homeland, I compare it to death. It seems like you could die once and you're born again, So for me, it's completely two different worlds.

"But [these] worlds are not absolutely separated, and you carry on. And when I think about this I just remember my life."

SBS wants to hear your story...because there's a writer in all of us. Submit your story of 1000-2000 words that speaks to the beauty and/or challenges of being Between Two Worlds in diverse Australia and you could win up to $5000 and kickstart your career. Entries are open from August 16-September 16. Go to www.sbs.com.au/writers for more information and register here to enter.

There will also be an opportunity for some entrants to have their work included in an official anthology of SBS Emerging Writers' Competition entries, published by Hardie Grant. Approximately 30 entrants will be selected for the anthology, to be published in 2022. Hardie Grant will contact the successful entrants directly; and work with them on editing their entry and preparing it for publication.

First Nations writers are encouraged to enter. 

Listen to SBS Voices' new podcast, The New Writer’s Room, in the SBS Radio appApple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

The SBS Emerging Writers' Competition returns for 2021
The competition aims to uncover bold new voices that reflect the diversity of contemporary Australia by inviting aspiring writers to share their stories and have their voices heard.
Introducing SBS Voices' new podcast: 'The New Writer's Room'
Thinking of entering the SBS Emerging Writers' Competition? Consider this your cheat sheet.
New anthology showcases the best of the 2020 SBS Emerging Writers' Competition
SBS is proud to announce the release of 'Roots: Home is Who We Are' in partnership with publisher Hardie Grant.
SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition Terms and Conditions 2021
Read the Terms and Conditions for SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition here.