Wiradjuri author, Tara June Winch, is one of the greats of contemporary Australian literature. Through her writing, she tells the stories of characters forced to live at the margins, compelling readers to understand the complexity of life for those who society has rejected, ignored and abused. Through Ms Winch’s cast of critically-acclaimed novels and short stories, she has brought to light the lived experiences of Indigenous Australians of multiple generations, and at the same time, created a vehicle for the savouring and sharing of Aboriginal culture and language on a global stage.
Ms Winch published her first critically acclaimed novel, Swallow the Air, in 2006, when she was just 22 years old. The book tells the story of a young Aboriginal woman from a broken family, searching for her father and a sense of belonging. The novel attracted numerous literary awards including the David Unaipon Award for the book manuscript, which honours emerging Indigenous writers. Ms Winch was named Best Young Australian Novelist by the Sydney Morning Herald, and in recognition of the critical relevance of the story to the education of young Australians, Swallow the Air was adopted into the Australian HSC English curriculum from 2009 to 2019 – a rare opportunity for a young, first-time author to open the minds of the next generation.
Her early success saw Ms Winch nominated for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, pairing her with Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka as her mentor. She spent time with Soyinka in Nigeria in 2008, exploring the possibilities of her writing under the guidance of a literary legend. Ms Winch was accompanied by her then two year old child, determined to share the journey of discovery and development with her young child. Over the following eight years, they travelled through different parts of the world – from New York to Paris – as Ms Winch mused over the stories mulling inside her. As a single mother living in Paris, she balanced her writing with teaching to earn an income, and was determined not to rush the creative process. This culminated in 2016 with her second published works, a collection of short stories titled After the Carnage, again exploring themes of marginalisation, but across multiple countries, illustrated through the lives of her characters – migrants, Aboriginal people, single mothers, ‘at risk’ children in unstable homes. The book was longlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awar d for Fiction, and shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, and the Queensland Literary Award for a story collection. In 2018, Ms Winch wrote the script for the Indigenous dance documentary Carriberrie, stretching her writing from the page onto the stage.
But it was her most recent novel, published in 2019, that drew her the greatest accolades. The Yield, a story about intergenerational trauma and the dispossession of Aboriginal culture across three generations, won Australia’s most prestigious literature prize in 2020, the Miles Franklin Literary Award. The Yield also won the Prime Minister’s Award for fiction, People’s Choice, Book of the Year and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, as well as the Voss Literary Prize, and was longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award. Editions were published in the US, Canada and the UK and translated into French and Dutch, with forthcoming publications in Mandarin, German, and Polish. The novel combines a brutal account of Australia’s colonial history with a raw illustration of current crises, all intertwined with a dictionary of the Wiradjuri language, breathing life into the words of the Wiradjuri and honouring how they link to family, country, and identity. Given Australia’s Aboriginal languages are now some of the most endangered in the world, Ms Winch’s book acts to immortalise the language of the Wiradjuri in a way that not only preserves the dialect but shares it, through story, with the world.
See Tara’s response here to being named the Awardee of The Arts Award for 2022.