Winners of the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards were announced on Friday in an online ceremony that saw the recognition of two First Nations authors.

This year’s David Unaipon Award for an Emerging Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Writer was awarded to poet Jazz Money from New South Wales for her work The Space Between the Paperbark. The work was described as a “luminous and beautifully sculpted, seamless collection of poems”.

Dedicated to one of the first published First Nations authors and established in 1988 by the University of Queensland Press (QPU), the David Unaipon Award celebrates and encourages the art of First Nations storytellers.

Unaipon, a Ngarrindjeri man, was a writer, inventor, public speaker and prominent voice in First Nations affairs. He advised both State and Commonwealth Governments in improving rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and is currently depicted on the Australian fifty-dollar note.

“The David Unaipon Award was a truly national honour with nominations received from all over Australia,” said Queensland State Librarian and CEO Vicki McDonald.

“Judges were impressed with the number and diversity of entries which included children’s and adult fiction, as well as poetry and non-fiction.

“State Library of Queensland is proud to shine a light on the extraordinary talent and potential of emerging First Nations writers.”

The award has helped launch the careers of many First Nations writers, including Doris Pilkington Garimara, Tara June Winch, Ellen Van Neerven, and most recently, 2020 Queensland Literary Award winner Lisa Fuller.

Awarded the prestigious prize in 2018, Fuller also took out the Griffith University Young Adult Book Award this year for her young-adult novel Ghost Bird.

The novel weaves in strong elements of Indigenous culture and was written to connect to the experiences of First Nations youth.

“I was thinking about how there was nothing when I was a kid that felt like it represented us,” Fuller said.

“More than anything, I wanted to write a good yarn, but also write something that my nieces and nephews and cousins could see themselves in and be [a] part of.”

Fuller didn’t expect her novel to fit into the young adult genre, but a number of teachers and librarians have contacted her who are interested in incorporating and sharing her work in their learning initiatives.

“To be honest, I didn’t think this would fit into the young adult genre—there’s a lot of swearing, mature themes and violence—but that’s been the best part of this process. It’s been super accepted by libraries and teachers and I was not expecting that at all,” she said.

Fuller is proud to have received the price and said it will give her the space to grow.

“The money will give me the chance to separate from some of the work I do, and give me more time and space to write which is the most valuable thing to me,” she said.

Winners took home a total of $238,500 in prize money across 11 categories, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and unpublished works.

The $25,000 Queensland Premier’s Award was presented to journalist Joe Gorman for his “superbly written” non-fiction book, Heartland: How Rugby League Explains Queensland. The work examines the State of Origin and the role it plays in Queensland’s identity.

The Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards (consisting of two $12,500 packages) were awarded to poet Zenobia Frost and essayist and publisher Yen-Rong Wong.

The Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer went to Fiona Robertson whose “stories display subtlety and empathy as they reveal people at moments of change or crisis, grappling with how to repair fractures in their lives and relationships, in the pursuit of happier existences”.

The State Library of Queensland manages the awards in collaboration with sponsors, industry partners and the writing community.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the government supported the work of Queensland writers.

“I congratulate all the winners of the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards, whose lauded works will be enjoyed, admired and added to Queensland reading stacks and shelves for years to come.”

By Imogen Kars