Andrew Pippos wins the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2021

Readings Doncaster manager and chair of judges Kate McIntosh on the buoyant, bittersweet joy of Lucky’s.

We are thrilled to announce the winner of the 2021 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction is Andrew Pippos for his debut novel Lucky’s. The story of Greek-American migrant Vasilis ‘Lucky’ Mallios was one that stayed with the judges as we made our way through this process: more than 60 books over 12 months, whittled down to a shortlist of six, then ultimately pared back to the final one.

As any book lover knows, walking into a bookshop and being confronted with hundreds (if not thousands) of books to choose from can be overwhelming. It is also one of the best feelings in the world. The Readings Prize shortlist is here to help narrow the field a little, to encourage readers to pick up a book by a first- or second-time author they don’t know and to give it a try. The judging panel all had their favourites, but after everything 2021 has thrown at us, from plague, to protests, to the ground quite literally quaking beneath our feet, we chose the book we found to be the most colourful, the most bittersweet and the one which ultimately filled us with joy.

Lucky’s reminded us of a pre-covid, pre-hyperconnected time, one full of different challenges but still with much to say about our current moment where fortunes can flip quickly, and compassion is needed. There is a war just finished, a childhood changed forever by the actions of a parent, a shooting, an addiction, a new beginning or two. There is love, and loss, and a favourite television show we can all remember. There is humour and warmth in this story, as well as wisdom and madness. Pippos is never afraid to show a darker side to his characters; they can be unlikeable at times, but there is redemption too. He reminds us not to give up, to have hope, to trust. This is why we chose Lucky’s as our winner this year, because it is an outstanding, clever debut, one so many Australians can relate to, and enjoy.

On hearing the news, Pippos said: ‘For a long time, the world of Lucky’s was a private space. Sometimes it felt like an extension of the daydreaming I did as a child – a world only I could visit, and which had worth only to me. It’s wonderful and humbling for my novel to be publicly recognised in this way. And the prize is recognition from an institution that I value a great deal. I’ve probably stepped foot in a Readings store every time I’ve visited Melbourne. Thank you, Readings staff, for all you’ve done for Australian books.’ To determine the winner from the shortlist, Danielle Mirabella (book buyer at Readings Hawthorn), Jackie Tang (Readings Monthly editor), Jess Strong (digital content manager) and I were joined by last year’s winner, the delightful Elizabeth Tan, as well as managing director, Mark Rubbo, to help us make our decision.

andrew-pippos-winnerPhotograph by Wes Nel

Elizabeth Tan described Lucky’s as an ‘exceptional debut work’. She said: ‘Far from being a rags-to-riches migrant success story, the novel is a poignant exploration of mediocrity, envy and failure. There are many threads for the reader to follow, but Pippos introduces each character and timeline with nimble charm. Despite the story’s numerous dark tragedies, there is a pleasing buoyancy and momentum to the prose – much like the brisk, rhythmic clip of the spinning Wheel of Fortune in the novel’s climax – making Lucky’s an unexpected joy to read.’

This year’s Readings Prize shortlist was exceptional, full of extraordinary new talents and choosing the winner was never going to be easy. New Animal by Ella Baxter is witty and confident and tugs at the heartstrings, challenging the reader while making them laugh at the same time. The interlinked short stories that make up Paige Clark’s She Is Haunted are unique, insightful and instantly appealing. The world Briohny Doyle presents in her devastating dystopian novel, Echolalia, is intense, her characters deeply moving and the writing heartbreakingly beautiful. Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson weaves the not-so-distant past with the spiritual, bringing together music, family, life and Country. Adam Thompson’s Tasmania as described in his collection of engaging short stories, Born Into This, is vivid, contemporary and jolts the reader out of complacency with complex moments that demand contemplation long after the book is finished.

‘It was a privilege to join the Readings judges in this year’s discussion of the shortlisted books,’ said Tan. ‘The Readings Prize is a blessing for early-career authors and for readers in search of exciting new fiction. These bracing, evocative stories compel the reader not only to turn the page, but to contemplate the cost of failing to attend to grief, trauma, injustice, and the most monstrous parts of ourselves. All of the shortlisted books are worthy of repeat readings and are propelled by bold, distinctive voices: I look forward to discovering what Baxter, Clark, Doyle, Pippos, Simpson, and Thompson write next.’

As the winner of the Readings Prize, Andrew Pippos receives $3,000 in prize money. Now in its eighth year, the prize was imagined as a way of drawing attention to and supporting the work of Australia’s emerging literary writers. Congratulations again, Andrew!

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