31-year-old writer from Melbourne wins Miles Franklin Prize

At just 31, Melbourne writer Jennifer Down has won the 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Prize for her second novel, body of light.

The judges called the novel “about affirmation, resilience and survival, told through an amazing voice”.

They praised the author’s “extraordinary skills and compassion” in a story about the journey of a woman who overcame untold trauma over several decades of her life.

“[The novel] invites readers to witness the too often hidden destructive forces of institutionalized care,” the judges wrote. “Down has written an important book which deals with a pressing issue in contemporary Australian life.”

Down said she still pinched herself after hearing the news of her win.

“To be shortlisted, then shortlisted, among authors whose works I have read and admired for a long time, was already a stroke of exceptional luck,” she said. “I was, and am, delighted to be in the company of writers embracing stylistic, thematic and formal diversity, whose works explore such different slices of ‘Australian life’.”

Down’s win is the second Miles Franklin Award received by its publisher, Text Publishing, which also published last year’s winner Amanda Lohrey for her novel The labyrinth.

Michael Heyward, editor at Text Publishing, called Down’s novel “a transformative novel that gives epic scope to the life of a single soul”.

“Reading it is immersing yourself in it,” he said. “We at Text are all thrilled to hear of Jennifer Down’s victory over Miles Franklin and we offer her our sincere congratulations.

Alaina Gougoulis, editor at Text Publishing, which edited Down’s book, said the win was “incredible recognition” for its author.

“The abundant talent of his first novel, Our magic hour, has been fully realized in this book, an intimate story of a life told on an epic scale: heartbreaking, yet brimming with hope and beauty. The fact that she is still so early in her career should fill us with optimism about the future of Australian writing. I’m beyond thrilled for her, as an editor and as a friend.

As part of her research for the novel, Down read police transcripts, House reports, Senate investigations, and testimony from care leavers.

All the while, she aimed to get into “writing as a sort of testimonial, not writing to tap into the depths of someone else’s horror…done effectively, that’s enough breathtaking”.

“Spending all your free time reading about the various ways the state has let down some of its most vulnerable young people, you start to feel a little miserable and cynical,” she said. Guardian Australia.

“But if I had the right to have great ambition, it would be for people to recognize that this is a relatively accurate representation of what is happening.”

Down’s first novel, Our magic hourwas shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.

His collection of short stories, pulse points, won the 2018 Readings Prize and the 2018 Steele Rudd Prize at the Queensland Literary Awards. In 2017 and 2018, she was named Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year.

She is currently working on her next novel.