Barbara Jefferis Award 2020 Winner Announced


In early October, the shortlist for the biennial Barbara Jefferis Award, worth $50,000, was announced. This award, for those of you who don’t remember it, has very specific criteria:

“the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society”.

Libby Angel, The trapeze actThe eagle-eyed amongst you will realise that it is not the sex of the writer that’s relevant here (nor, in fact, the genre). This award is for books about women and girls – and so can be written by anyone of any sex – but it must also present them in a positive or empowering way. I wrote a Monday Musings post about this “positive or empowering” requirement two years ago. That year, the winner was Libby Angel’s The trapeze act, a book I hadn’t read then, hadn’t heard much about even, and still, I’m afraid, haven’t read.

This year’s shortlist of five books comprises four by women writers and one by a man AND, notably, three of the five are by Indigenous Australian writers.

Unbelievably for me, given my usual track record, I’ve read four of the five. I wish I’d read Treloar too because I know it’s been much enjoyed by bloggers, and it is set in a part of the USA that I have visited.

Judges Robyn Sheahan-Bright, Jeremy Fisher and Barbara Horgan, as reported by Books + Publishing, said of 2020’s submissions:

We were very much struck by the empathy with which the experiences of older women were depicted as powerful role models for those younger than them in so many titles—women who were survivors of both personal and family challenges and cataclysmic social, economic or environmental events.

… and the winner is

Of course, the one I haven’t read, Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island!

You can watch the announcement here, which includes an introduction by author Bri Lee, comments on each book by judge Robyn Sheahan-Bright, comments on their books by the short-listed authors, the winner’s announcement by Barbara Jefferis’ son Michael Little, and a gracious and strong response from the winner Lucy Treloar. In her words, she repeats the message I’ve shared here before which is that prizes like this (plus all arts funding) enable writers to buy time to write.

Congratulations to Lucy Treloar – and to all the shortlisted authors. I must read this book.

21 thoughts on “Barbara Jefferis Award 2020 Winner Announced

  1. Just seen the announcement on Instagram. Typically it’s the only book on the shortlist I haven’t read! The same happened to me with the Readings New Writer prize. I’d read every book on the shortlist except for the one that won! 🙄🤷🏻‍♀️

  2. Oh great a new book from Lucy Treloar, we who could forget Salt Creek, brilliant and exhausting. I bought The Yield for my sister in Sydney and would love to read that too.

    I quite like the idea of building up over the years a genre (here it’s a prize) of literature that empowers girls and women, certainly as a young girl that’s a genre I craved. And one of the reasons I’m no fan of most of the classics.

    • Thanks very much Claire for commenting. As I wrote in a previous post these “positive” and “empowering” criteria were a little controversial when the prize was established, but I think it can be interpreted pretty broadly to avoid simplistic, happy books. I’m interested that you craved these sorts of reading experiences when you were a young girl. I don’t remember feeling a need for that – but then, I always had lovely Jane Austen to fall back on, and she was good at heroines like that!

    • Thanks Lisa. I know some don’t like awards in the arts, and I get it, but the financial help is so valuable as so many writers say. Of course, it the arts were better supported overall …

      • There is a belief amongst some that we should just do without the things that aren’t profitable enough to survive without govt assistance, but I’m not one of them. I think governments can and should do good things like this.

  3. Wasn’t this one of the starting books in 6 degrees of separation? I do remember reading Lisa’s review and thinking it sounded good but then completely forgot about it 🙂

  4. Pingback: Barbara Jefferis Award 2020 Winner Announced – Site Title

  5. A great shortlist and such a deserved winner! Though some of the others would have been, too. You definitely must read Wolfe Island!

    • Thanks Theresa. I tried to buy Wolfe Island today at a bookshop. Not only did they not have it (which didn’t surprise me, thinking there might have been a rush) but the young staff member, clearly didn’t know what I was talking about. That was a bit disappointing. It was Bookface, which is “a small group of independent bookstores”, ie not one of the big chains. I know you can’t expect staff to know everything. Hopefully other staff there are across Australian book news.

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