Prime Minister's Literary Awards 2020 winners include Tara Jane Winch, Omar Sakr

Omar Sakr with Communications Minister Paul Fletcher at the Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Picture: Rohan Thomson
Omar Sakr with Communications Minister Paul Fletcher at the Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Picture: Rohan Thomson

Sharing in the prize pool of the Prime Minister's Literary Awards means Omar Sakr can help young writers in his Western Sydney community find their voice.

Mr Sakr's book The Lost Arabs won the poetry category in the Prime Minister's Literary Awards when the winners were announced on Thursday.

Mr Sakr was stunned his second book took out the honour, saying it was his "last chance" for it to be recognised on the national stage after being shortlisted for five awards.

"Peter Dutton four years ago remarked it was a mistake of the Fraser government to let in Lebanese migrants in this country, which included my family," he said to the crowd at the National Library on Thursday.

Mr Sakr told the crowd his presence "didn't ameliorate" those comments, but it gave him a satisfaction "to be here despite them".

He was among six winners of the annual awards across children's literature, young adult literature, fiction, poetry, non-fiction and Australian history.

Tara June Winch took out the top prize for fiction with her novel The Yield, accepting the accolade from her Paris home and adding to an impressive collection after winning the Miles Franklin and NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

The Gay'wu Group of Women's book Songspirals: sharing women's wisdom of Countrythrough songlines won the non-fiction category alongside Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson.

Cooee Mittigar: A Story on Darug Songlines by Jasmine Seymour, illustrated by Leanne Mulgo Watson, won in children's literature and Helena Fox's How It Feels to Float won young literature.

Meeting the Waylo: Aboriginal Encounters in the Archipelago by Tiffany Shellam won the Australian history category.

Mr Sakr's share of the $600,000 prize pool will be life-changing, to support not only him and his family, but the budding young writers he wants to inspire.

"Knowing you're sitting at a table with ... people who are in very different financial circumstances to you and for whom this amount of money wouldn't make any large difference to their lives," he said.

"They might take a holiday ... for me I can secure some basic necessities and in doing so be able to give more to my mum.

"It takes a weight off my mind."

Mr Sakr believes Australia's literary award system is "really unequal", with the majority of prize money typically handed to one winner, rather than the many short-listed contenders.

"No one likes to talk about the money side of things because the assumption is everyone in the room is already privileged enough it won't matter to them," he said.

"We should absolutely be having the conversation to make the awards more equitable, whether that means less for the winner or everyone gets the same amount."

While working on a new novel he hopes to finish by this time next year, Mr Sakr will start free writing workshops for young people to tell their own stories.

Mr Sakr said The Lost Arabs "aims to unsettle" ideas of culture and order, not affirm his own identity.

"I wrote this book because I was tired of being told where I did and didn't belong, or whether I was or wasn't Arab or was or wasn't Muslim, or was or wasn't Turkish," he said.

"I take aim at these structures we all take for granted as being immovable."

Author Tara June Winch won the Prime Minister's Literary Award for fiction. Picture: Supplied

Author Tara June Winch won the Prime Minister's Literary Award for fiction. Picture: Supplied

Prime Minister Scott Morrison presented the awards from the National Library on Thursday morning in a ceremony broadcast live and joined by winning authors from across the globe.

"Literature plays a vital role in connecting us to Australian voices and our story as a nation. In a year like no other, never has the diverse contribution of home-grown writers been so important to every one of us," he said.

Christina Thompson won in the non-fiction category. Picture: Supplied

Christina Thompson won in the non-fiction category. Picture: Supplied

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the annual awards "endorse a national appreciation of Australian literature and increase our understanding of Australian history".

"They also provide much-deserved acknowledgement and recognition for authors and illustrators," he said.

"Literature allows Australians to express their individuality and creativity, and what better way to take audiences of all ages on unique journeys that will excite, intrigue, and break down complex issues."

This story 'I was tired of being told where I belong': Poet's big literary award first appeared on The Canberra Times.