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News  •  17 June 2021


Penguin Literary Prize 2021 winner announced

And the winner is... James McKenzie Watson!

Penguin Random House Australia is thrilled to announce Denizen by Dubbo-based James McKenzie Watson as the winner of the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize.

Chosen from 240 submissions, Watson said of his win, ‘I know it’s a cliché but winning the Penguin Literary Prize is a dream come true – I still can’t quite believe it’s happened. To have been awarded this prize for a novel that contains so much of my heart and soul is an astounding privilege, and I’m so grateful to PRH for this incredible recognition.

‘I’m thrilled too by the investment this represents in stories about regional Australia and honoured by the opportunity to engage with a wide audience on this subject. I’m so excited to work with the wonderful team at PRH and bring this novel into the world.’

Denizen was selected from a highly talented shortlist, and the judging panel included Justin Ractliffe and Meredith Curnow from PRH Australia; Simon McDonald, PRH ABA Young Bookseller of the Year, from Potts Point Bookshop; Molly Murn from Matilda Bookshop; and Jaye Chin-Dusting from Mary Martin Bookshop.

Justin Ractliffe, Publishing Director of PRH Australia, said, ‘The judging process was an absolute pleasure. There was robust, thought-provoking debate and all the shortlisted titles were thoroughly examined and hotly contested. In the end we had to pick a winner and I’m delighted that it is James McKenzie Watson’s Denizen.

‘It’s a raw and powerful piece of outback gothic that fearlessly tackles some big issues and wraps them up in a twisty psychological thriller that draws the reader inexorably towards a devastating climax. It’s a Venus flytrap of a book. Huge congratulations to James and to all the shortlisted authors – the fact that it was such a hard decision is testimony to the quality of the writing. Thank you to our brilliant judges for their time, passion and commitment to the Penguin Literary Prize.’

Judge Simon McDonald said of the winning submission, ‘Denizen is a novel everyone will be talking about. It’s equal parts gripping, devastating and gut-wrenching as it tackles a myriad of meaty themes including fatherhood, mental illness, and the ruggedness of rural Australia – both its people and the landscape. It’s one part literary thriller, another part psychological study, blended powerfully and uncompromisingly. I can’t wait to read it again in its final, polished form.’

James will be awarded $20,000, with Denizen to be published by Meredith Curnow, Publisher, Penguin Random House Australia in 2022. The next round of submissions for the PRH Literary Prize will open later this year.

Now in its fourth year, the Penguin Literary Prize was launched to find, nurture and develop new Australian authors of literary fiction. Since its inception, the prize has received submissions from across Australia in a variety of genres and forms. Previous winners include Hitch by Kathryn Hind, published June 2019; The Spill by Imbi Neeme, published June 2020; and The Rabbits by Sophie Overett, to be published July 2021.

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