Shortlist year: 2022
Shortlist category: Fiction
Published by: University of Queensland Press
'Dark as Last Night' confirms, once again, that Tony Birch is a master of the short story. These exceptional stories capture the importance of human connection at pivotal moments in our lives, whether those occur because of the loss of a loved one or the uncertainties of childhood.
In this collection we witness a young girl struggling to protect her mother from her father's violence, two teenagers clumsily getting to know one another by way of a shared love of music, and a man mourning the death of his younger brother, while beset by memories and regrets from their shared past.
Throughout this powerful collection, Birch's concern for the humanity of those who are often marginalised or overlooked shines bright.
About the author
Tony Birch is an Indigenous author of three novels: the bestselling 'The White Girl', winner of the 2020 NSW Premier's Award for Indigenous Writing, and shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Prize; 'Ghost River', winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Indigenous Writing; and 'Blood', which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012. He is also the author of 'Shadowboxing' and four short story collections. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award. Tony Birch is also an activist, historian and essayist.
'Dark as Last Night', a volume of short stories by an Aboriginal writer about marginal lives and working class people is likely to become an Australian classic. Tony Birch has been described as "more like Chekhov, than Carver". He is sometimes brutal, sometimes tender, and always empathetic. Half in love with most of his characters, he is sharply insightful about those he doesn't love: the husband and father who beats his wife and daughter; or the neighbourhood kids who steal a child's much loved "shining red dragster bike", and smash it up after they are confronted. Birch has a wonderful ability to bring his stories to life with a bizarre but telling detail. A short, pencil thin woman, known as "Little Red" befriends the young female narrator of the title story "Dark as Last Night". Little Red recommends smoking to her young friend – "Cigarettes calm you down". She lives in a house, where a previous inhabitant papered the walls with old newspapers, stretching back decades. The landlord had offered to paint over them. She said no. She tells the narrator why: "I now have all these stories from around the world. They give me company." These stories will give us company for a long time. Birch is a master story teller.