The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction shortlist 2020

Congratulations to the six emerging Australian authors who feature on this year’s Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction shortlist: Lauren Aimee Curtis, Joey Bui, Yumna Kassab, Laura Jean McKay, Elizabeth Tan and Jessie Tu.

Joe Rubbo, our Carlton shop manager and chair of the 2020 judging panel, shares more details below.

The world was a different place when the other judges – Kara Nicholson (Readings online), Kara McQueen (Readings Carlton) and Andras Kerekes (Readings online) – and I started reading for this prize in the second half of last year. Despite the monumental distractions we have experienced since then, it was a fascinating and, as a bookseller, rewarding experience. This is my first time judging this prize, and as my colleague Alison Huber pointed out to me, it is a unique selection of reading – the first and second novels or short-story collections by Australian writers. The books published over the year were innovative and challenging, and many shed light on aspects of Australian culture that have long remained in the dark. Disconcertingly, there were a few striking novels that featured pandemics, one of them making the shortlist.

Deciding on the shortlist was extremely difficult, and so many good and interesting books just missed out. Our final choices include three assured short-story collections, two compelling novels and one gut-punch of a novella. Four of these works come from first-time authors, while two are sophomore outings, and it’s heartening to note that six different publishers are featured. Through this reading process, I was reminded of the vibrancy of our local publishing scene, and its commitment to telling Australian stories by new voices. It’s something we readers should all cherish and support, now more than ever.

It is with great pleasure that I offer a very brief introduction to each of the six books shortlisted for The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction shortlist 2020.


The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean McKay

One of the most unsettling books on this list, Laura Jean McKay’s second book features a hard-bitten narrator who’s struggling to deal with a pandemic that has swept Australia which allows humans and animals to communicate. Gripping from the get-go, this is one of the stand-out novels of the year.


Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis

This is a highly enigmatic novella that manages to work some strange magic on the reader. The writing is superb and the imagery leaves an indelible impression. Lauren Aimee Curtis’s debut is one of those books you can’t wait to discuss with other readers.


Lucky Ticket by Joey Bui

This staggering debut collection is built on Joey Bui’s interviews with Vietnamese people from refugee backgrounds. Each story thrusts the reader into a different world; in each story Bui harnesses a voice that is powerful, distinct and nuanced.


A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

This darkly compelling debut heralds Jessie Tu as a young writer to watch. The story of a former violin prodigy battling with past demons while trying to make her way in the world, it draws you in and won’t let you go.


Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan

Elizabeth Tan’s second work of fiction is a collection of stories that pushes the form but never alienates the reader. Full of incisive commentary and pin-sharp prose, this is a marvellous and highly rewarding read.


The House of Youssef by Yumna Kassab

A debut collection that charts the lives of Lebanese immigrants in Australia, these short, sharp stories are structured in a compelling fashion, building on each other to create a larger whole. Yumna Kassab knows what to leave out to ratchet up the intensity.

Now the shortlist has been decided, Readings’ managing director Mark Rubbo and author Alice Robinson will be joining our judging panel to help decide the winner. Robinson won The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction in 2019 for her gripping climate-fiction thriller, The Glad Shout, and we’re excited to hear her thoughts on this year’s prize contenders.

Look out for the announcement of the winner online in late October and in the November edition of the Readings Monthly. In the meantime, you can get ahead on your reading with our shortlist pack at the special price of $134.90 (was $164.90).

Due to the impact upon Readings of the ongoing global health crisis, we are unable to offer prize money for any of our three prizes in 2020. We do hope these prizes will still guide readers towards wonderful emerging voices.