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Stella Prize 2020 Winner announced

April 14, 2020

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).

Jess Hill See What You Made Me DoAnd 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 making her Stella Prize Winner's speechJess 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.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2020 10:10 pm

    Well .. the subject of her book is known to be swallowing money to very little effect – domestic violence continues unabated, So if she can clarify the issue at all – especially if such clarification can help fix the unfixable – she will be worth much more than AUD50K.

  2. April 14, 2020 10:35 pm

    An interesting and exciting evening. I’m not familiar with the winner’s book but will look into it more to see what it is about. I would have loved to hear Julia Gillard speak.

  3. April 14, 2020 10:39 pm

    I was one of your readers…who did not know who the winner was before reading your post. You are the one to spread the news to NL!

  4. April 14, 2020 11:26 pm

    Not a book for me. Began it and abandoned it. Felt it covered stuff I already knew but I’m sure others will find it very informative.

  5. April 15, 2020 12:04 am

    I haven’t read it, but I had a feeling this one would win. There is, quite rightly, such a strong push to make Australians realise that violence against women is such a serious problem.

    • April 15, 2020 8:31 am

      Thanks Lisa. There certainly is. It’s horrendous what some women experience, something that Hill made so clear in her speech … I think more people need to understand the complexity of the situation and why there’s no easy fix, for individual women and for society as a whole. I hate to think of the suffering some women are confronting while others of us are quite enjoying our forced slow down.

  6. Sara Dowse permalink
    April 15, 2020 7:32 am

    Great news, WG. Absolutely a deserved winner. I reviewed this book for Inside Story and believe it to be the definitive work on the scourge of domestic violence – what Hill prefers to call domestic abuse. It’s a must read for anyone with concern about it and its widespread incidence in this country – responsible for one woman’s death every week.

    • April 15, 2020 8:25 am

      Thanks Sara. I missed your review. I do get Inside story but with that, The conversation, and the plethora of other emails coming in, I just don’t read half of them. I appreciate your recommendation.

      • Sara Dowse permalink
        April 15, 2020 10:44 am

        You can still find the review if you google Inside Story with her name or mine. Maybe worth reading it. I see that one of the comments came from one reader who started the book and put it aside, believing it said what she already knew. Well it does and it doesn’t. I was around in the 70s when we started setting up refuges and played a part in their funding, and there was lots in the book that either put forward a different perspective on what I thought I knew, or introduced me to new ways of dealing with what can only be described as a scourge and a blight on our country.

        • April 15, 2020 10:47 am

          Thanks Sara I will. And I’m glad you say that about what we know and don’t know. My guess was that it would be a bit like you said .. that their might be some new perspectives or ways of seeing from the research and analysis she’s done.

  7. Meg permalink
    April 15, 2020 8:53 am

    Hi Sue, I haven’t read it but will look out for it when I am ‘out’. An important social issue that should be addressed. Hopefully this will help to make people more aware that domestic abuse is not acceptable under any circumstances.

  8. April 15, 2020 9:14 am

    The authors comments were so interesting. Books really can be a refuge. I would also agree that the truth, even when not all positive, can be a comfort.

    • April 15, 2020 10:51 am

      Thanks Brian. Can’t disagree with what you say. Interestingly I read an article the other day saying that Americans want the negative truth/ unpleasant news now. It said that if you are told negative things you are more likely to believe they’re true because most people – particularly leaders – don’t like saying negative things!

  9. April 15, 2020 10:22 am

    I’m thrilled ‘See What You Made me Do’ won the Stella – it’s an amazing, intelligent and insightful read. And beautifully written.
    My husband is one of the leaders of the Victoria Police’s Family Violence Command and yet I learned a great deal from this book (including about some of my own past relationships). Everyone in Husband’s team has a copy, and it’s often discussed in his office. In a good way.
    As an aside Sue, the only reason the Stella shortlist wasn’t announced on IWD was because this year it fell on a Sunday, and so therefore harder to get publicity traction. I’d hazard a guess that next year it will be announced on IWD again.

    • April 15, 2020 2:19 pm

      Ah, thanks Michelle. I did wonder whether that was the reason it wasn’t on IWD. It would be great to stick to that tradition in general I think.

      And thanks for that insight into the book. I felt that it probably had something special to offer, otherwise it’s hard to imagine it winning such an award given the contenders!

      Now, will I order a print copy or get an e-version. I mostly buy Aussie books in print, but … decluttering is an increasing issue as I look at yet another decade passing me by in a couple of years!!

  10. April 15, 2020 1:07 pm

    I too thought it was wonderful to be able to ‘attend’. I really enjoyed what Julia Gillard had to say. So much wisdom.

    • April 15, 2020 2:20 pm

      It was wonderful for us in the regions (!) wasn’t it Theresa. And it started at 8pm which was a lovely time. Too many of these online events are starting at 7 which is just hopeless really when you are home with others. It’s such prime home family dining time. I’m finding it quite frustrating.

      • April 15, 2020 2:35 pm

        Yes, 6.30 seems a popular time too which is impossible for me. 8 was perfect!

        • April 15, 2020 4:56 pm

          I;m glad I;m not the only one. What are they thinking. Starting anywhere from 6 to 7 are just difficult I think.

  11. blessedreams permalink
    April 16, 2020 7:25 pm

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  13. buriedinprint permalink
    April 25, 2020 5:27 am

    You can add me to the list of people who learned the news from you, rather than from the news! (Normally I listen to a lot of book news and only a fair bit of political news, these days I’m listening to a lot of political news and only a fair bit of book news. If it was more equal, that would probably be a good thing, overall, not only now.)

    This sounds like an important winner. And I believe it is important to remake this point, which has been made before but now there are new generations discovering certain truths and revealing and receiving them in their own ways…and there’s always something new to learn, even from familiar subjects, isn’t there.

    • April 25, 2020 6:24 am

      Thanks Buried – it seems then that my post was worth doing, for which I am glad.

      I agree that there is always something new to learn – some some slightly different angle or perspective. I have the book, and am going to try to read it in the next month!

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