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Stella Prize 2020 Longlist

February 6, 2020

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 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2020 20:25

    They all make me feel like the total amateur I was.

    • February 6, 2020 20:45

      Oh, I don’t think you should feel that at all, M-R. Your book had such heart and I really enjoyed your writing as well.

      • February 7, 2020 05:22

        Think I was utterly cast down by the publishers’ lack of .. care. Anyway. Thanks darlint !

        • February 7, 2020 15:57

          I know you were, and I’m sorry. Unfortunately, with no experience I can’t offer anything more than that. Still, they published it, and that’s a great thing. 😀

        • February 7, 2020 20:01

          Ain’t it just ? – Stringer would’ve been tickled pink. Or maybe not .. [grin]

        • February 7, 2020 22:15

          I never met him except through your book, but that Stringer would have been thrilled.

  2. February 6, 2020 20:41

    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.

    • February 6, 2020 20:49

      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.

  3. February 6, 2020 21:05

    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 🙂

    • February 6, 2020 21:10

      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.

      • February 6, 2020 21:31

        It’s great to see diversity among judges as it certainly impacts on the long lists. Interesting, though, that the only fiction writer among them was a poet.

        • February 6, 2020 21:38

          Yes, I agree. I did think this was a very interesting panel and wondered what they might come up with. I should have made that comment more specifically.probably in the post.

  4. February 6, 2020 21:24

    Thanks, Sue…..for this list!
    I can investigate some books during my morning coffee!
    Still trying to digest the Senate vote in USA last night!

    • February 6, 2020 21:33

      Is there anything to digest?! Wasn’t it pretty much foregone? Check out this list instead Nancy and let me know what you think. Much more predictable!

  5. February 6, 2020 21:33

    Hmm. I’m a bit like Theresa, underwhelmed.
    And if names are anything to go by, it’s not even particularly diverse.

    • February 6, 2020 21:43

      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?

      • February 7, 2020 08:18

        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.

        • February 7, 2020 10:02

          Just to clarify: I’m not assuming that the books are unworthy just because none of us have come across them.

        • February 7, 2020 16:20

          Thanks Lisa – I didn’t think you meant that! But it was worth clarifying.

        • February 7, 2020 14:23

          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.

        • February 7, 2020 16:27

          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.

        • February 7, 2020 16:18

          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.

        • February 7, 2020 18:36

          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!

        • February 7, 2020 18:41

          Fruit and veg! Clever one Lisa.

  6. February 6, 2020 22:44

    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…

    • February 7, 2020 15:54

      Sounds reasonable to me. I didn’t know the Young was big and I feel the same about the YA. Songspirals would interest me.

  7. February 7, 2020 01:05

    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.

    • February 7, 2020 15:55

      Same here, kimbofo. A few weren’t even on kale’s big list. There’s no way I’ll read the shortlist.

  8. February 8, 2020 12:37

    Agree, the omission of Amanda O’Callaghan’s book is a surprise. The title is This Taste for Silence and her writing is outstanding.

    • February 8, 2020 15:31

      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.

  9. February 10, 2020 15:44

    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.

    • February 10, 2020 16:34

      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.

  10. February 11, 2020 11:51

    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.

    • February 11, 2020 14:22

      I agree with what you say Jennifer. I like hearing about new books and authors but am sorry about ones I do know.

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