Clare Atkins won the 2019 Book of the Year Award, Older Readers for Between Us. The Award was presented at Deakin Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne on Friday 16 August. This is Clare’s acceptance speech.
Growing up, it felt rare to find a novel that reflected my experience of living between parents, between cultures, between worlds. When I did find a rare gem that portrayed this tentative balancing act, I would read it over and over, soaking in the reassurance that lay beneath the words: you are not alone.
In Between Us, I wanted to personalise the debate around multiculturalism and immigration, which is often simplistically defined as ‘white Australia’ verses boat people. In reality, modern day Australia is a nation of immigrants and many teenagers of mixed culture struggle to define what it means to be ‘from here’. Representation of this new diverse reality in literature, particularly youth literature, is vital.
In writing this novel, I had the honour of working with Shokufeh Kavani, a wonderful Iranian writer and artist. When I asked if she wanted to contribute to this speech, she said:
I appreciate what Clare has done, writing a book in which one of the main characters is an Iranian girl. A girl from a country unknown and mostly badly portrayed by the western media. I hope the next generation of Australians have a different view about Iranian people, and that one day you will all visit Iran and see it for yourself. I am touched thatClare has not only pictured this country and its people in a beautiful way, but has put them in the centre of a love story, as love changes everything.
I’d like to say a special thankyou to asylum seeker advocate Natasha Blucher, the refugees, asylum seekers and workers who shared their stories, my editor Aviva Tuffield, publisher Black Inc, agent Elizabeth Troyeur, and the supportive and vibrant Australian YA community, including the other shortlisted and notable authors on this year’s amazing list.
To the young adults, teachers, librarians and booksellers, who make up and support the next generation of readers – thankyou. To the Australia Council and Arts NT – your funding helped make this possible.
This novel was written over several years that were very challenging for me personally. Thankyou to my parents, Pip and Binh, and my children, Louis, Rosa and Nina, for their love and unwavering support.
And finally to the judges and the Children’s Book Council of Australia – there is no greater honour for me than winning this award, following in the footsteps of decades of writers whose works have given me comfort and inspiration, and helped me redefine what is possible for people growing up in the in between.