Arts student wins Penguin award

August 11 / 68

PhD Creative writing student Emily Bitto has won this year’s Penguin Manuscript Prize for her story The Strays.

Ms Bitto received $5000 plus 25 hours’ editorial manuscript development assistance with the Penguin Group (Australia). 

The prize, supported by Penguin and the School of Culture and Communication, encourages University postgraduate students enrolled in Creative Writing to submit an extended prose manuscript, with the opportunity for professional development and possible publication. More than 20 students submitted 20,000 word-plus manuscripts. 

Three entries were shortlisted: Ms Bitto’s piece, Aaron Mannion for his work, Something Always Gives and Georgina Perry for Weathervane.

Ms Bitto initially intended to write a poetry collection in her PhD, but then changed to fiction. “It’s been quite a different thing, embarking on a creative writing PhD, having to get up each day and work on the novel; finding a way of continuing to work on the project even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired or creative,” she said. 

“It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m loving it.”

Ms Bitto said working with her supervisor, Kevin Brophy, had been great. 

“He has a real eye for certain things I really struggle with, for example, structure, and he has been extremely encouraging and generous with his time." 

“The Strays is about a group of artists in Melbourne in the 1930s, a time when modern art was only beginning to be produced here and was still very controversial.

“I wouldn’t describe it as historical fiction though – the artists in the novel are fictional characters. It’s told from the perspective of the friend of one of the artists’ daughters – a kind of peripheral figure.”

Penguin Editor Jo Rosenberg said the winning entry was “an accomplished and thoughtful manuscript that would benefit from further development.

“The narrator’s observations are carefully considered, and the characters generally engaging and credible. A sense of intrigue is established early on, which helps to create narrative drive,” she said.

 “Emily Bitto is a promising author and we look forward to working with her.”








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