Miles Franklin prize removes novel from longlist after author apologises for plagiarism

Australia’s most prestigious books prize, the Miles Franklin literary award, has pulled The Dogs by John Hughes from its 2022 longlist, a day after Hughes apologised for plagiarising parts of the work of a Nobel laureate “without realising” in his acclaimed novel.

Following a Guardian Australia investigation that uncovered 58 similarities and instances of identical text between parts of Hughes’ 2021 novel The Dogs and the 2017 English translation of Svetlana Alexievich’s nonfiction The Unwomanly Face of War, Hughes apologised to Alexievich and her translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky “for using their words without acknowledgment”.

In a statement to Guardian Australia on Friday, a spokesperson for Perpetual, the trustee for the Miles Franklin literary award, gesê: “After being made aware of circumstances surrounding longlisted novel The Dogs, Perpetual, as trustee of the Miles Franklin literary award, has consulted with the judging panel and the publisher and it has been agreed that the novel be withdrawn from the longlist.”

“The shortlisted finalists will be revealed on 23 Junie 2022 and the winner announced on 20 July 2022.”

Hughes’ publisher, Terri-ann White at Upswell Publishing, confirmed she had asked for The Dogs to be withdrawn from contention for the $60,000 prys.

“There has been robust discussion and conjecture already about the background offered by author and publisher,” White said in a statement. “As our joint response stated, we were not justifying anything: it was a clear appropriation of other people’s words (those women Svetlana Alexievich listened to, alongside her words). It was not deliberate; it was human error.

“It is a salutary reminder to imaginative writers who don’t use the formal tools of scholarship that ‘false memory’ – self-attribution of the writing of others after becoming very familiar with its locution – is a serious consideration before submitting for publication. If John Hughes had intended to plagiarise as successful a book as the magnificent The Unwomanly Face of War, he would have changed the words in those short descriptive passages. This painful incident has not reduced my respect for John Hughes as a writer.”

The Dogs was longlisted for the Miles Franklin prize in May, and was previously shortlisted for the 2022 Victorian premier’s and 2022 NSW premier’s literary awards for fiction.

First awarded in 1957, the Miles Franklin literary award is presented each year to a novel of the highest literary merit. It is a condition of the prize’s 2022 guidelines that “all entries must consist entirely of the author’s original work”.

Alexievich’s book The Unwomanly Face of War was first published in Russian in 1985. It collates interviews conducted by Alexievich with more than 200 women who fought for the Soviet Union in the second world war.

In 2015, the Belarusian journalist was awarded the Nobel prize in literature for her historical “polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”.

When first approached by Guardian Australia about the similarities between his novel and Alexievich’s book, Hughes said he had made “many recordings and transcripts” with his Ukrainian grandparents, who told of many similar instances to those contained in The Unwomanly Face of War.

Hughes said he read it when it came out in English in 2017, and used it to teach creative writing students about voice, acknowledging Alexievich as the source.

“I typed up the passages I wanted to use and have not returned to the book itself since," hy het gesê. “At some point soon after I must have added them to the transcripts I’d made of interviews with my grandparents and over the years and … [gehad het] come to think of them as my own.”

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