Perth-based writer and academic Josephine Wilson has won the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award for her novel Extinctions — becoming just the fifth West Australian to claim the gong.
Australia’s most prestigious literary prize was bestowed upon Ms Wilson at a function at the New South Wales State Library in Sydney on Thursday night.
The awards, in their 60th year, were established through the will of My Brilliant Career author Miles Franklin for the advancement and improvement of Australian literature.
The prize is given to the novel with the “highest literary merit” which presents “Australian life in any of its phases”.
Ms Wilson said she was honoured to win the prize.
“I think we all struggle to have a national profile and without public support and recognition through things like the Miles Franklin we just can’t have that,” she said.
“It is absolutely wonderful for West Australian writers and for my friends who write to see that such a trajectory is possible.”
Extinctions explores the life of retired engineer Professor Frederick Lothian who has quarantined himself from life by moving to a retirement village.
His wife is dead and he is estranged from his two adult children and determined to be miserable until he is thrown together with his neighbour Jan and begins to realise the damage done by a lifetime of secrets and lies.
All five authors on the Miles Franklin shortlist were first timers. (Facebook: Miles Franklin Literary Award)
Wilson explores the themes of ageing, adoption, grief, empathy and self-centredness.
Richard Neville, the chairman of the judging panel and Mitchell librarian at the State Library of New South Wales, said the novel was a meditation on survival.
“On what people carry, on how they cope, and on why they might, after so much time putting their head in the sand, come to a decision to engage and even change,” Mr Neville said.
Ms Wilson works as a sessional staff member at Curtin University where she lectures in Creative Writing and Art and Design History.
Ms Wilson’s novel was one of five shortlisted, with the other authors being Emily Maguire, Mark O’Flynn, Ryan O’Neill and Philip Salom.