Elizabeth Tan wins the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2020

It is a great pleasure to announce Elizabeth Tan’s Smart Ovens for Lonely People as the 2020 winner of The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. This is a truly exciting work; Tan’s stories push the form, and offer a quixotic but penetrating look into our contemporary life. Her collection stood out to the judges for its originality, its clear and concise writing, and its humour – Smart Ovens for Lonely People is laugh-out-loud funny.

In response to the win, Tan said: ‘In a year in which our beloved rituals for encountering and celebrating new books have necessarily transformed, the vigorous efforts of independent booksellers like Readings to continue elevating Australian writers and connecting books with the readers who will love them deserve our applause. It was an honour all on its own to be recognised in this year’s shortlist for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction alongside such fiercely talented authors, and I find myself quite startled and grateful to be named the winner. To Readings, the judges, and the booksellers – thank you all so much.’

I was joined on this year’s judging panel by fellow booksellers Kara McQueen (Readings Carlton), Kara Nicholson (Readings Online) and Andras Kerekes (Readings Online) – as well as last year’s winner, Alice Robinson. Deciding on 2020’s final winner was no enviable task. We had such a strong shortlist to choose from – highlights from a great year in Australian publishing. In contention alongside Tan’s winning collection were five other terrific books: The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean McKay, Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis, Lucky Ticket by Joey Bui, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu and The House of Youssef by Yumna Kassab. Each year we offer all six books in a specially priced pack and in 2020 have sold a record number of these packs, as well received some terrific feedback about these books from our customers. The shortlist truly is a great window into contemporary Australian writing and life. As Robinson writes: ‘The 2020 prize shortlist constituted one of the most exciting collections of books I’ve seen elevated in recent years – both in terms of the diversity of their authors, and also in terms of the experimentation and intelligence inherent in the form, plot, subject matter and literary merit of each work. I would like every reader in Australia to pick up at least one of the books on this list – and, ideally, to read them all.’

Back in the first week of the first lockdown, Readings Prizes Manager Bronte Coates and I had a discussion about whether it was possible to continue with the prize this year. Running a bookstore in a pandemic seemed an impossible challenge and nerves were frayed. Would we be able to give the books the attention they deserve? Many titles were already being delayed and had fallen out of contention. If we continued, there could be no award ceremony and no prize money. Would we continue with the Readings Monthly? Would people even be buying books? There was so much we didn’t know at that time but, in the end, we decided to stay the course. And I’m so glad we did.

elizabethtan_crleahjingmcintoshPhotograph by Leah Jing McIntosh

This has been a miserable year for debut authors, with launches, bookstore visits, events, and writers’ festivals all cancelled or moved online. These are some of the few spoils authors get for their years of hard, solitary work. So, it was rewarding to be able to use this prize as an opportunity to shine a light on a group of authors who could otherwise have been overlooked in the maelstrom that has been 2020.

Still, there can only be one winner, and I’ll leave it to Alice to tell you why you should order your copy of our pick today: ‘The stories collected in Smart Ovens for Lonely People made me laugh out loud with surprise and delight – not only because they are very funny, conveying enviable literary skill, but also because I have simply never read anything like them, and that is such a pleasure and a delight. One thing is certain in my mind, and that is that I am a lifelong convert to Tan’s writing. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.’

Or, as one of my fellow judges, Kara MQueen, put it: ‘ Smart Ovens for Lonely People made me excited to read again, and even more excited for new writing.’ This is the kind of book we all need in our lives right now.

Smart Ovens for Lonely People

Smart Ovens for Lonely People

Elizabeth Tan

$29.99Buy now

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