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Grace Yee wins 2024 Victorian Prize for Literature for Chinese Fish
Melbourne-based poet Grace Yee has won the 2024 Victorian Prize for Literature, Australia’s most generous writing prize worth $100,000, for her verse novel and debut book, Chinese Fish. The surprise announcement was made at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards ceremony at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, during which Yee was also awarded the VPLA for Poetry, worth $25,000.
It was an exceptional day of recognition for Yee and her book, which was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in the poetry category earlier that morning. Yee holds dual citizenship in Australia and New Zealand, with Chinese Fish distributed on both sides of the pond.
A polyphonic, multi-generational and feminist tale which tells the story of a migrant family in Aotearoa New Zealand, Chinese Fish began as a PhD thesis. ‘I wrote it for myself,’ said Yee. ‘I had absolutely no ambitions for publishing it…[and] when I finished my thesis, it sat in the top drawer.’ You can hear Yee talk more on her book in her interview with Mel Fulton on Triple R’s Literati Glitterati, which aired a few months after Chinese Fish was published.
This is the second year in a row that a Giramondo author has taken away the Victorian Prize for Literature, with Jessica Au winning it in 2023 with her novel, Cold Enough for Snow.
Read Yee’s acceptance speech for the Victorian Prize for Literature and the VPLA judges’ comments on her book below. A transcript of Yee’s Poetry prize acceptance speech can also be found on her website.
Grace Yee’s VPLA acceptance speech
If my parents were here, they would be gobsmacked. They would be astonished that this little story that I wrote even got published in the first place. This story, which was inspired by very ordinary people like them, to have been acknowledged like this is mind-blowing.
One of the things that has pleased me a great deal since I published the book, which I did not anticipate, is so many readers have reached out to me and told me how much this story has resonated with their own family stories of immigration and resettlement.
I think that literature is crucial for illuminating the ordinary. Ordinary people’s lives. Lives that have been marginalised, hidden, and erased. And for shining light on the darker recesses of the world. Literature raises really big questions and it has no easy answers. It gives us pause and I think those pauses are significant, more significant, when you read a story and the characters in that story, their lives are so very different to your own. That kind of literature gives us the biggest pause.
This award will enable me to have a bit of a pause and reflection. Which doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be doing anything! [laughter] Pausing and reflecting is as much of the writing process as putting pen to paper and putting words on a screen, as all writers know.
I am so very very grateful for this award, it is such an amazing honour. Thank you.
Chinese Fish switches between lyric, dramatic and documentary poetic forms, to tell a multi-generational tale of the Chin family’s migration from Hong Kong to Aotearoa New Zealand. Yee focuses on women’s experience; particularly, how migration tests the relationship between a mother and her daughter. She tells this story with sparkling humour, wit, and stylistic verve, while paying sustained attention to historical circumstance – particularly everyday racism and the discriminatory government policies which affected Chinese migrants. Characters’ voices are interwoven with archival text and scholarly observations. Cantonese-Taishanese characters, peppered throughout the dialogue, enhance a reader’s connection to this fictive family and their past. We were impressed by how intelligently Chinese Fish braids its modes and forms, its feminist vision, and its literary and conceptual sophistication.
Order Chinese Fish on the Giramondo website, or find it in your local independent bookstore.
‘Australia’s richest writing prize goes to Melbourne poet for family saga’ — Sydney Morning Herald