I’ve been lucky enough recently to join The Stella Prize to help them set up their school’s program. I’m so excited to be working with the amazing women who initiated this prize to address the gender bias in Australian literary prizes.
I’ve had quite a few people ask me about the prize since I started working on this project, so I decided that it would be worth putting up a bit of info here. Kerryn Goldsworthy beautifully summed up the prize when she discussed her role as a judge in this year’s award.
The Stella Prize was born in a spirit of protest and resistance. It took shape early in 2011, when a literary event in Melbourne to mark International Women’s Day featured a panel discussion about the under-representation of women in literary pages and magazines, as well as in the shortlists and winners of literary prizes. The women involved in this event decided that it was time to do something. In 2009, five of Australia’s leading women writers—Debra Adelaide, Amanda Lohrey, Joan London, Kate Grenville and Helen Garner—had published excellent novels that were eligible for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia’s most sought- after literary prize and one of its richest. None of them even made the longlist, and the shortlist consisted exclusively of novels by men. And unbeknown to the women on the discussion panel that day, the 2011 Miles Franklin shortlist that would be announced a month or so later would again be an all-male lineup.
The Stella Prize is not the first Australian Literary Prize for women, but it is the only one to have been established by women pushing for change rather than as a result of a bequest. Miles Franklin was the pen-name of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin—feminist, nationalist and author of the Australian classic My Brilliant Career. Like many of her female contemporaries, she knew that using a male pseudonym would give her writing a better chance of being published and read. Naming the award the Stella Prize was a way of honouring Franklin and of restoring her given name; that “Stella” means “star” was icing on the cake.
The UK’s well-established and prestigious Orange Prize—now the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction— provided a model, and with the help of donors and sponsors and some broad support from the literary community, the prize was first awarded in 2013 to Carrie Tiffany for her novel Mateship with Birds….(read the full article here)
I’m hoping at some stage to post some reviews up here of the books that I’ve read for this project. I’m only sad that I didn’t get to them earlier, despite having heard wonderful things from the beginning. It has been an amazing list of books to be working through – I don’t envy the judges what must have been a hard decision indeed. I’ve linked to the long lists and shortlists from the 2013 and 2014 prizes below. If you’re looking for something to read, I urge you to sink your teeth into a few of these. Covering a huge range of themes and writing styles, spanning both fiction and non-fiction, these books have excellent storytelling in common and are an impressive representation of Australian talent. And if you read any, come back tell me what you think. Or better yet, head over to the Australian Women’s Writing challenge and write a review!