‘As dumb and cheesy as can be’: How Jennifer Down celebrated her Miles Franklin victory with her family | Miles Franklin Literary Prize 2022
Australia’s new Miles Franklin Award winner, Jennifer Down, celebrated her win in style worthy of far-off pandemic ceremonies: with a handmade sash and plastic tiara.
The 31-year-old, who won the country’s most prestigious literary prize this week, delighted fans on Thursday when she described her family’s surprise celebration, which featured a plastic red carpet (“murder or slip and slip?”), matching T-shirts, bouquets and an A4 sign printed on the front door reading “Miles Franklin Ceremony inside”.
Down entered her parents’ home ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, expecting a low-key affair of “champagne and vegan sausage rolls” – but the fanfare was not unprecedented.
“They were known to do this stuff before,” she said. “We love to make a fuss of each other…any excuse for a celebration.”
His parents couldn’t have been prouder, seated at the ceremony wearing matching T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Father of Winner Miles Franklin” and “Mother of Winner Miles Franklin.”
Her sister opted for something a little more understated: a t-shirt that reads “hot people read light bodies.”
“They were ordered online and weren’t going to arrive in time, so at the last minute my sister had to drive somewhere in the day to pick them up,” Down said.
Printed signs were littered throughout the house, including on a chair “reserved for the winner of Miles Franklin.” Another alerted to “autographs with the winner of Miles Franklin in front”.
“My sister said her memoir was as silly and tacky as it gets,” Down said.
“There was something deeply beautiful about it. I was there in the same clothes I had worn all day, no makeup. We were all in our jeans and sweatpants…during what has been an overwhelming week, it was nice to just be with those I’m closest to.
The Melbourne writer said she was still processing the “immeasurable impact” the $60,000 prize – one of the richest book prizes in the country – had on her life as a writer.
Bodies of Light is Down’s second novel and his first to be shortlisted for the Miles Franklin; he was praised for his frank unpacking of the impacts of childhood trauma.
His debut novel and collection of short stories – Our Magic Hour and Pulse Points – have won the Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Novelist of the Year award two years in a row.
“I have Bodies of Light products, but when my second book [won] best young novelist, my parents had two dozen mugs printed with the cover of the book and the honorary title,” Down said.
“My mum and sister have been driving for a year with magnetic book covers taped to the outside of their cars.
“It’s lovely – they’ve been mad for a long time, we’re all mad.”
As for the fate of the belt? Down said it would occupy a “prominent place” in his studio.
“My parents encouraged me to wear it on screen [for breakfast interviews]but if you weren’t familiar with my family, that would have been shameless at best and completely insane at worst, so I declined,” she said.