Well, a very different announcement “party” for the announcement of the 2020 Stella Prize winner but one that was exciting for those of us not in Melbourne, because we could attend!
It was a beautifully conceived and smoothly produced program, with words from each of the shortlisted writers and each of the judges, plus a powerful “keynote” address by Julia Gillard. Stella executive director Jaclyn Booton provided the necessary official overview and emcee/presenter Patricia Karvelas held it all together in her isolated studio!
I enjoyed seeing (and hearing) the passion for the role literature can play in our lives, with some speakers specifically referring to our current pandemic times. For example:
- Caro Llewellyn spoke of how books can enable us “to dig deep and really explore what’s happened … show us the joy in the world”
- Tara June Winch hoped people would pick up her book and “not be ashamed to look at our collective past”; she saw her book as one of hope, saying “in the horror there is ultimately the truth, and the truth is a beautiful thing”
- Charlotte Wood talked, among other things, of turning “to writers to help us stay calm in terrible times”.
- Ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard said how these pandemic times “bolstered the power of literature”, including that literature can offer both ”escape” and “comfort”. But, and this relates to a question I asked in a recent post, she also said that we will rely on writers and artists in the future to distil the deeper truths of what we are experiencing now.
Julia Gillard spoke at length, and eloquently as you’d expect, about gender equity, about the need to accelerate the rate of change, but she also made clear that the issue is complex and multi-layered. She also spoke specifically about literature, saying that it is crucial to address gender bias in the literary world. She, herself, she said, had lived a different life than she may have because of books she’d read when young, like Margaret Atwood’s The handmaid’s tale and Anne Summers’ Damned whores and God’s police. These books shaped her, she said, rather like Germaine Greer’s The female eunuch, in particular, shaped me.
Finally, though, the point she made that particularly interested me concerned the fact that the Stella Count had shown improvement in many of the areas counted, such as the percentage of books written by women reviewed in significant papers and journals. What interested me was that her point was not so much about the improvement itself, but that the improvement shows that “targets work”, that “what we choose to count matters”. That’s an important message I think because it’s hard to change things if you don’t have the data.
Before I announce the winner, which most of you will have heard by now anyhow, here is a quick recap:
- the longlist was announced on 6 February; and
- the shortlist was announced on 6 March (not International Women’s Day as has been tradition for some years): Jess Hill’s See what you made me do (nonfiction); Caro Llewellyn’s Diving into glass (memoir); Favel Parrett’s There was still love (novel); Josephine Rowe’s Here until August (short stories); Tara June Winch’s The yield (novel); Charlotte Wood’s The weekend (novel).
And the winner, from around 170 books submitted, is Jess Hill’s See what you made me do: Power, control and domestic abuse. It is the fourth non-fiction book to win the award in eight years, confirming yet again Stella’s aim to be broad in the forms it encompasses. The previous three were Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The erratics (2019, my review), Alexis Wright’s collective biography, Tracker (2017), and Clare Wright’s history The forgotten rebels of Eureka (2014, my review).
Jess Hill’s winner’s speech was articulate, convincing, engaging and oh so passionate about her subject and the book. Commissioned by Aviva Tuffield, it was some four years or so in the making, and was clearly (and not surprisingly) a very demanding book to write. Although I’m interested in its subject, I had not necessarily planned to read the book, but now I feel I must!
The winner receives $50,000, and each long and shortlisted author also receive monetary prizes.
If you have any comments on the winner, please share them with us.