Stella Prize 2020 Longlist

I don’t do well at having read the Stella Prize longlist at the time of its announcement. In 2017 I’d read none; in 2018 it was one, and last year two! Will it be three this year? (BTW by the end of 2019, I had read six of the 12, one more than in 2018! At least I’m going up, albeit at a snail’s pace.)

I do do better at reading the winners, however, having read Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds, Clare Wright’s The forgotten rebels of Eureka, Emily Bitto’s The strays, Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things, Heather Rose’s The museum of modern love and Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The erratics. So far, I’ve only missed 2018’s winner, Alexis Wright’s Tracker.

The judges are again different to last year’s – with the exception of the chair, Louise Swinn, who was also chair last year. 2020’s judges are award-winning journalism and author Monica Attard, journalist and editor for NITV News Jack Latimore, feminist editor and author Zoya Patel, and poet, educator and researcher Leni Shilton. Once again, as you’d expect from an organisation like Stella, attention has been paid to diversity on the panel.

Book coverThe longlist:

  • Joey Bui’s Lucky ticket (short stories)
  • Gay’wu Group of Women’s Songspirals: Sharing women’s wisdom of Country through songlines 
  • Jess Hill’s See what you made me do
  • Yumna Kassab’s The house of spirit
  • Caro Llewellyn’s Diving into glass
  • Mandy Ord’s When one person dies the world is over
  • Favel Parrett’s There was still love (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review)
  • Josephine Rowe’s Here until August (short stories)
  • Vikki Wakefield’s This is how we change the ending
  • Tara June Winch’s The yield (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review)
  • Charlotte Wood’s The weekend (my review)
  • Sally Young’s The paper emperors: The rise of Australian newspaper empires

Well, wow! All I can say is I guessed Winch and thought probably Wood, and maybe Parrett, but several of the others I haven’t even heard of. I was hoping that Carmel Bird’s Field of poppies, Madelaine Dickie’s Red can origami, and Amanda O’Callaghan’s This taste for silence, for a start, might get up – not to mention Jessica White’s Hearing Maud. But, as I haven’t read most of the longlist I’m not going to judge. I will say though that my record, that was on the up, has taken a beating, as I’ve only read one to date. Nonetheless, it is good to see diversity again in the list – both in terms of author and form.

The judges’ chair, Louise Swinn commented on the longlist that:

… This longlist is varied: it includes a graphic memoir, a young adult novel, Aboriginal songspirals, personal memoir, history, short stories and novels. We’ve been given a sense of just how influential our newspapers have been on public policy; we’ve learnt some history of our land; and we’ve been given the lowdown on both the dire statistics and the real-life stories of domestic abuse. We’ve been transported: we were sixteen years old all over again (gulp!).

All of the writers we longlisted are finding innovative ways to communicate their stories, and there is a very real sense when opening these books that an honest dialogue is being entered into. These authors are craftspeople serious about their intention and dedicated to the art. We were educated and entertained by these twelve longlisted books and we recommend them heartily.

The shortlist will be announced on March 6 (not March 8, International Women’s Day, as recently been tradition), and the winner on April 8.

Any comments?

34 thoughts on “Stella Prize 2020 Longlist

  1. I’m underwhelmed. I’ve read and enjoyed the Parrett and Wood. Winch is on my tbr. I read Diving Into Glass and thought it encompassed everything I detest about memoirs. The others I have no interest in.

    • Thanks Theresa. I don’t feel quite that way, but those three are certainly my highest priority. I have also wanted to read the Ord – I had forgotten it might be a contender. I’ve read Rowe before and think she’s well worth reading, and Songlines interests me. The rest, I’d have to find out more about to comment, as I just don’t know them at all.

  2. Interesting to look at the overlap with the recent Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Yumna Kassab’s The House of Youssef made the VPLA fiction shortlist, as did The Yield by Tara June Winch. Gay’wu Group of Women and Jess Hill both made the non-fiction shortlist (though Christina Thompson who won for Sea People didn’t make the Stella longlist). Vikki Wakefield was shortlisted in the YA category in the VPLAs. The kind of eclectic list we’ve come to expect from Stella 🙂

    • Thanks Angela . Yes, I noticed some of those VPLA overlaps. As you say, eclectic as we expect. I think the judging panel is probably more eclectic too? Though perhaps you can comment more on that? I think I febgnsed fever this year but that probably says more about my inattention lately, than anything.

    • I’m learning, I think, Lisa, to see these lists in the light of Stella’s goals which do not have the traditional literary focus. Seen that way, I think that although it is often a surprise, it is often interesting too, even if it may not closely represent our reading preferences?

      • I don’t mind it being ‘interesting’, but I think that if they want the Stella to take a place beside the MF and the PM’s Prize in terms of prestige, then focussing on obscure books that comply with some agenda *in addition to* the women writers’ agenda, doesn’t help. At the end of the day, the ordinary reader might choose a book because it’s won a prize, but if they don’t enjoy it, they not only judge the book, they also judge the prize.

        • This mirrors my thoughts. Although I will also acknowledge that representing different forms is important. The obscurity point keeps sticking though. At least half of these books are ones I’ve never clapped eyes on, not even via the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I’m in two minds. On the one hand, it’s good that these books are finally getting attention, but on the other, it’s hard to get excited about books you’ve never heard of. I’m unlikely to ever read an entire longlist or even shortlist, and I’m okay with that. The list should have books on it that don’t necessarily suit the one reader. I just don’t understand where they get them from sometimes. And yes, is there more than one agenda? I thought not but this is probably an erroneous assumption.

        • Thanks Theresa. I’ve had a stab at the agenda issue in my response to Lisa. It is interesting that quite a few books are new to us but I can’t comment on that without researching them in more detail. I think because of the diversity in form it’s probably less surprising that we only know some than it would be if we only knew some MF which is narrower in ambit? I dont know YA for example, and am only generally across memoir, nonfiction, etc.

        • Fair comments, Lisa. Perhaps the ordinary reader will like the winner! But you’re right, the reputation of the prize will rest largely on whether people will like the winners.

          From the start they have said they are not a literary fiction prize, so they are in a sense forging new ground. I guess you can still be prestigious but different? Also, both MF and PM prizes have had their rough spots? Stella is still young. You could argue that Miles Franklin had an agenda when she bequested her prize, so I’m not sure having an agenda is an insurmountable issue. There’s also the question of how you define agenda. I think you could define Stella’s “agenda” as women writers in all their diversity. I’m not sure there are two agendas but one broad one of which diversity has always been a significant part. The more diverse the prize, though, the trickier it is to judge I’d say.

        • Yes, good point, and the Stella has always had difficulty with recognising a broader range of women’s writing. This year they’re not just comparing apples with oranges, LOL they’re dealing with a whole basket of fruit and veg!

  3. Agree about the diversity in form. There’s couple I’m excited about (I do like memoir); Songspirals will be interesting; unlikely to read the Young based on size alone; probably won’t read the YA unless it makes the shortlist…

  4. It’s an eclectic list with lots of new-to-me names. Not all appeal but I think that’s to be expected. I generally try to read everything on the shortlist but I’m going to wait to see what’s on it before committing myself.

    • Oops, of course it is. I apologise to the author. A year or so ago I read and reviewed another short story collection called Habits of silence. Both great reads, but the titles get mixed up in my head. I’ll fix it.

  5. First, a declaration. I was not involved in selecting this year’s judging panel. But I do know a little about the process, which is this – the judges are sent the books, and the published guidelines. That’s pretty much it! Then the poor judges have to work out how to proceed, amongst themselves. So of course as the panel differs each year, so too do the personalities, preferences and outcomes (even with the same Chair who, in Swinn’s case, is inclined to guide rather than to over-rule). It’s hardly an exact science! So I think it’s best to take the long view with prizes, and to assess them over time. An ‘interesting’ year, here and there, is par for the course and is, in fact, genuinely interesting.

    • Thanks very much Michelle, I was hoping you’d comment. I rather like the fact that each panel sets its own way of assessing. I agree entirely about taking the long view. As I said in an earlier comment, most if not every prizes has had its controversies and/or unusual years. This year’s Stella “seems” rather different, brave might be a better word, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

  6. I’ve read two of these books (Favel Parrett and Tara June Winch) and have a couple of others on my list. I like that I’ve not heard of some of these books and that the authors are new to me: more to read and explore. On another level, there are so many great books out there, and I’d have liked to have seen some others included.

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