Monday musings on Australian literature: The Stella Prize longlist

Miles Franklin

Miles Franklin, c. 1940s (Presumed Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

I have mentioned the new Stella Prize before but, for those of you who may not be across this new award on the Australian literary scene, here is a brief recap. It is named for Miles Franklin – her full name was  Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin – and is “for the best work of literature (fiction and non-fiction) published in 2012 (for this inaugural one) by an Australian woman”. The prize of $50,000 will go to one author.

The award was created by a group of 11 women, including the writer Sophie Cunningham, in response to what many of us felt was an abysmal under-representation of women writers in Australia’s major literary awards and other literary activity (such as reviewing and being reviewed). The Stella Prize people want to turn this around and, as they say on their website, to:

  • raise the profile of women’s writing
  • encourage a future generation of women writers
  • bring readers to the work of Australian women.

The judging panel is a varied lot and should, I think, do an interesting job:

  • Kerryn Goldsworthy (Chair): author, writer, academic and critic
  • Kate Grenville: best-selling and award-winning Australian novelist. (Surely she doesn’t need any further introduction?)
  • Claudia Karvan: actor, producer and television scriptwriter
  • Rafael Epstein: television and radio journalist who has won the prestigious Walkley Award twice
  • Fiona Stager: bookshop owner and past president of the Australian Booksellers Association.

And, in fact, I think they have if the longlist – quite different to most literary prize longlists I’ve seen before – is any guide:

  • Romy Ash, Floundering: a debut novel on contemporary themes
  • Dylan Coleman, Mazin Grace: an historical novel about mission life, by a Kokatha-Greek writer
  • Courtney Collins, The burial: a debut historical crime novel which has apparently already been optioned for film. It reimagines the life of  Australia’s ‘lady bushranger’, Jessie Hickman
  • Robin de Crespigny, The people smuggler: described as “a non-fiction thriller and a moral maze” and I think I’ll leave it at that!
  • Michelle de Kretser, Questions of travel: the fourth novel by an award-winning Sri Lankan born writer. I’ve read two of her previous novels and am keen to read this one.
  • Amy Espeseth, Sufficient grace: novel by a Wisconsin born writer. It won an unpublished manuscript award back in 2009.
  • Lisa Jacobson, The sunlit zone: a verse novel which writer and reviewer Adrian Hyland describes as combining “the narrative drive of the novel with the perfect pitch of true poetry”
  • Cate Kennedy, Like a house on fire: a collection of short stories by one of Australia’s best short story writers. I’ve only read a couple of hers but need to find time to read more.
  • Margo Lanagan, Sea hearts: a fantasy or speculative-fiction novel about selkies and the like that also appeals to non-genre readers (I believe). Her prose is said to be beautiful.
  • Patti Miller, The mind of a thief: a memoir exploring issues around native title.
  • Stephanie Radok, An opening: subtitled “twelve love stories about art” this one sounds hard to classify but fascinating to read. I think the judges called it “mixed genre”.
  • Carrie Tiffany, Mateship with birds: the second novel by the author of the truly splendiferous Everyman’s rules for scientific living. This is waiting patiently in my TBR.

What a fascinating list eh? It contains few of the usual suspects – even among our somewhat maligned women writing fraternity, we do have some “usual suspects” – but some great sounding works. By longlisting such a diverse collection the judges are surely sending out a message about the depth and breadth of women’s writing in contemporary Australia. Some of the books have been reviewed by participants in the Australian Women Writers challenge. Paula Grunseit has provided a brief survey of these reviews at the challenge site. If you go there you can enter a book giveaway at the same time!

The shortlist for the 2013 Stella Prize will be announced on Wednesday 20 March. and the inaugural Stella Prize will be awarded in Melbourne on the evening of Tuesday 16 April. I’ll keep you informed.

21 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: The Stella Prize longlist

  1. “Courtney Collins, The burial: a debut historical crime novel which has apparently already been optioned for film. It reimagines the life of Australia’s ‘lady bushranger’, Jessie Hickman.”

    Aussie crime, thanks for the heads up.

  2. That is an interesting list. I am especially intrigued by the novel in verse. I take it the Wisconsin-born Amy Espeseth is now an Australian? Either that or she is a long way from home!

    • Yes, Stefanie, they have to be “australian” to be eligible. I’m presuming that means long-term or permanent resident. I’m not sure whether they check citizenship papers! It’s a fascinating name isn’t it … I hope she never had a lisp!

  3. I think Stella prize is great idea especially as miles franklin been so male last few years ,the orange prize has done great things in uk for female writers ,any prize promoting people to read good literature is welcome ,all the best stu

  4. A wide-ranging list and some I will check out at my library. I have read a few of the books from the list, and you must read Mateship with Birds, a very Australian novel.


  5. So exciting! I’m looking forward to exploring the books on the longlist (only two authors already appear on my reading log and one other is on my TBR, so a lot of new-to-me writing to look forward to). FWIW, there is a similar recent effort for Canadian women writers. Details here, if you’re curious.

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