Six of the Best: Miles Franklin shortlist for 2021

Six books, with the overarching theme of 'destructive loss' compete for one of our biggest national awards.

Six authors have been shortlisted in the Miles Franklin Awards 2021, with the announcement held at the State Library of NSW and live streamed nationally on Wednesday 16th June. The Copyright Agency’s Cultural Agency and award trustee Perpetual welcomed a mix of new writers, early career and established hands to be in the running for the most prestigious literary award in Australia.

Though an eclectic list, the books share a commonality in that they all ‘investigate destructive loss: of loved ones, freedom, self and the environment’ said Richard Neville, State Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian and Chair of the judging panel.

‘There is, of course, beauty and joy to be found, and decency and hope, largely through the embrace of community,’ he continued, ‘But as the shortlist reminds us, often community is no match for more powerful forces.’

Read: The most anticipated Australian indie books of 2021

Two debut writers (Andrew Pippos and Madeleine Watts), a former Man Booker winner (Aravind Adiga) and an author with eight novels to her name (Amanda Lohrey are among the shortlisted. The other two authors,  each with a previous book apiece, are Robbie Arnott and Daniel Davis Wood.  

The 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist is:

  • Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (Pan Macmillan): A Sri Lankan migrant tale that tells of the complexities and contradictions of immigration and deportation in Australia.
  • The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott (Text Publishing): A beguiling blend of realism and myth, this allegorical fable is deeply invested in landscape.
  • At the Edge of the Solid World by Daniel Davis Wood (Brio Books): A lyrical book about the death of a child and the parents flailing at the loss of the future they’d imagined.
  • The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey (Text Publishing): A meditative book about grief and hope and trying to find a way out of generational trauma, with the title serving as a fitting emblem.
  • Lucky’s by Andrew Pippos (Pan Macmillan): A  story about family and migration and an American-Greek migrant who finds, loses and regains his fortune in Australia during the second world war.
  • The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts (Pushkin Press): A coming of age book about a young woman grappling for purchase in an age of anxiety. 

Mr Neville was joined on the judging panel by book critic Dr Melinda Harvey, author and literary critic Dr Bernadette Brennan, book critic Dr James Ley, and author and activist Sisonke Msimang.

Each of the 2021 shortlisted authors will receive $5,000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

The 2021 winner will be announced on 15 July and will receive $60,000 in prize money.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her debut, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was released by University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP). Her second collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Her third book, Essence, will be published in 2025. Twitter: @thuy_on Instagram: poemsbythuy