Stella Prize 2022 Winner announced

The 2022 Stella Prize winner was announced tonight and it’s not a surprise, as several of us in the blogosphere rather thought that

Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear

would be the winner. Indeed, I was so confident I took it with me to Melbourne this month, fully intending to read it. But, there was not much reading time, and it took most of my time there to finally finish 2020’s winner, Jess Hill’s See what you made me do (my review). I only read a couple of pages of Dropbear before I realised that I’d better read my reading group book for this week’s meeting. (It’s the next review you’ll see!) So, Dropbear is still languishing on the TBR, but you may remember from my shortlist announcement that Brona has reviewed it.

The book is a combination of prose and poetry, and the judges described it as:

a breathtaking collection of poetry and short prose which arrests key icons of mainstream Australian culture and turns them inside out, with malice aforethought. Araluen’s brilliance sizzles when she goes on the attack against the kitsch and the cuddly: against Australia’s fantasy of its own racial and environmental innocence.

The panel chair, Melissa Lucashenko, said that it will take you “on a wild ride” that is “simultaneously comical and dangerous”. All this confirms my desire to read it, because I enjoy writers who play with traditions, conventions and myths to encourage us to look again at who we are and what we do.

The quotes above, plus one by Stella’s Executive Director, Jaclyn Booton, can be found on the Stella website (linked below). There is also a quote from Evelyn Araluen’s acceptance. She commented that she’d been following the Stella for the length of her writing aspirations, and had hoped one day to write a novel that would win it. She never dreamed Dropbear would be that winner. She also said:

I’m deeply interested in the lives, histories, and dreams of women and gender diverse writers in Australian publishing, and it’s an honour to be recognised by a prize designed to champion those stories. There aren’t words to explain how thrilled I am to win.

Just to remind you, the judges were author Melissa Lucashenko, as chair, with her co-judges being writer, poet, essayist Declan Fry; author-across-all-forms Cate Kennedy; memoirist and activist Sisonke Msimang; and essayist and screenwriter Oliver Reeson

There’s more on the anouncement on the Stella website.

Any comments?

Jess Hill, See what you made me do (#BookReview)

Jess Hill See What You Made Me Do

I took me a long time to read Jess Hill’s 2020 Stella award-winning See what you make me do, partly because I bought the e-book version which I read in fits and starts and partly because of its content. As the Aussies among you will know, Hill’s book is an intense, thorough discussion of domestic abuse. It’s not an easy topic but it is a critical one because if statistics tell us anything it’s that the situation in Australia is not improving.

There’s no way I can share the wealth of information or fully convey the impressive depth of research Hill has done. However, I’ll do my best to give a sense of what this book does, and how Hill does it. She starts on definition, explaining that wherever possible, she replaced the term “domestic violence” with “domestic abuse” because “in some of the worse abusive relationships, physical violence is rare, minor or barely present”. “Domestic abuse” is the term now used by UK police because it undercuts the assumption that abuse is only serious if it’s physical.

Those of you versed in trauma will appreciate a fundamental challenge Hill faced, which, as she describes it, is that “power imbalance built into the journalist–source relationship: the journalist usually has ultimate power over what gets published”. For survivors of abuse, who have suffered at the hands of power, this could effectively mean abusing them all over again. So, Hill “wanted to flip that and give the power back to them. If this process was not a positive experience for them, there was no point in doing it”. So, she gave “them the chance, wherever possible, to review their story, suggest revisions or ask for things to be deleted – especially if there were safety concerns”.

In her Introduction she lays out the road map:

In the chapters that follow, we will travel through an extraordinary landscape, from the confounding psychology of perpetrators and victims to the Kafkaesque absurdity of the family law system.

And so, in eleven chapters, Hill traverses domestic abuse from multiple angles, grounding it in case studies – usually with names changed – which force us to put a face on the accompanying theories and statistics.

Hill starts by establishing coercive control as a fundamental aspect of domestic abuse. Our understanding of its techniques, she writes, come from the Cold War and US Air Force social scientist Albert Biderman’s recognition of how the tools of coercive control had been used on American POWs in North Korean camps. From here she analyses how the same techniques are used by intimate partners – almost always male, though there is a chapter on women who abuse – to create a threatening atmosphere that will convince the victim of the perpetrator’s omnipotence, the futility of resistance, and the necessity of compliance. The aim is total dominion (which is exactly what Wemyss’ wanted over Lucy in the prescient Vera). Hill describes the techniques in detail, and it’s chilling.

The best word for this book is forensic, because Hill burrows deep. She confronts us with our uncertainties – why did she stay, for example – and makes us see just how deep the degradation goes. She explains how a concussed women can look drunk and so be missed by the police as the victim. She shows how a traumatised woman can come across as irrational and erratic in court versus her cool, calm, well-presented abuser. She interrogates the role of patriarchy, and how it damages men, as well as women. Feminists, as many of us know, were the first to recognise this.

She looks at disabled women. She looks at children and the way they are used and treated by abusers in power plays. Indeed, her chapter on children and the courts is horrifying. She details the gradual weakening of the Gough-Whitlam-established family court system through successive, mostly conservative, governments. She shows how some of this weakening has been underpinned by a particularly egregious theory called Parent Alienation Syndrome. She reveals the perfect storm created for children caught up in a family court softened by law and bolstered by such spurious theory.

And, she devotes a chapter to First Nations women, who are at significantly greater risk of abuse than their non-Indigenous peers. The stories just keep on piling up as you read, stories that you can barely countenance, except that anyone with any semblance of awareness will know they are true.

It’s tough going but it’s valuable reading, because for all I thought I knew, there were details I didn’t know or appreciate. Hill asks some pertinent questions, like:

In the years I’ve spent writing this book, I’ve found that it’s the questions we don’t ask that are the most confounding: Why does he stay? Why do these men, who seem to have so much hatred for their partners, not only stay, but do everything they can to stop their partner from leaving? Why do they even do it in the first place? It’s not enough to say that perpetrators abuse because they want power and control. Why do they want that?

Or, as “Survivor Queensland” put it, ‘I want people to stop asking “Why does she stay?” and start asking “Why does he do that?”‘

Some of the answers lie in “traditional notions of masculinity – particularly male entitlement” which are at “the core of men’s violence against women”. But Hill identifies more questions, such as “what are the different reasons men have for needing to dominate their partners?” and what is going on in their minds that makes them “sabotage the lives of their partners and children – to the point where they destroy even their own lives?” These are “critical parts of the puzzle” that are “missing from our public conversations about domestic abuse”. 

Hill titles her final chapter “Fixing it”. She notes Australia’s excellent record in tackling public health problems. “From thwarting the tobacco industry to criminalising drink-driving, Australian governments have shown they are willing to burn political capital to save lives”, she says, and have achieved results. She then shares some of the actions currently being taken – but, of course, this was just before the pandemic so I suspect some of them have fallen by the roadside.

In 2017, she writes, a KPMG report concluded that although “significant progress” had been made against the “National Outcomes”, not only was there no evidence of reduction in “domestic violence”, in fact, the evidence suggested that “the incidence and severity of domestic and family violence” was increasing. However, lest we close the book feeling completely hopeless, Hill concludes with examples of two recent programs that have worked. We just need government will and support to back more such targeted programs. It can be done.

Janine (Resident Judge) also reviewed it.

Jess Hill
See what you made me do: Power, control and domestic abuse
Carlton, Vic.: Black Inc, 2019
ISBN: 9781743820865 (eBook)

Stella Prize 2022 Shortlist announced

The 2022 Stella Prize shortlist was announced, yesterday. But, as I had just posted my review of Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here, I decided to hold my announcement post over for a day. Those of you keenly interested will have seen it, but at least I will have it for my records.

Just to remind you, the judges are author Melissa Lucashenko, in the chair, with her co-judges being writer, poet, essayist Declan Fry; author-across-all-forms Cate Kennedy; memoirist and activist Sisonke Msimang; and essayist and screenwriter Oliver Reeson

And remember, this year poetry was added as a form eligible for the prize – and, it seems to have been a popular decision because, well, look at the …

The shortlist

  • Eunice Andrada, Take care (poetry)
  • Evelyn Araluen, Dropbear (poetry) (TBR, Brona’s review)
  • Anwen Crawford, No document (memoir) (Lisa’s review)
  • Jennifer Down, Bodies of light (novel)
  • Lee Lai, Stone fruit (graphic novel)
  • Elfie Shiosaki, Homecoming (memoir) (Lisa’s review)

So, two books of poetry, two memoirs and two novels (one being a graphic novel.) Three of the four I thought might have made it to the longlist – Araluen, Crawford, and Down – have now made it through to the shortlist. The announcement email I received from Stella said the list spanned “fiction, nonfiction, social history, a book-length essay, a graphic novel, and – eligible for the first time in 2022 – poetry”.  It also noted that “half of the shortlisted books written by debut authors.”

I will try to read at least the one I have on my TBR before the winner is announced, but I’d actually like to read all of these.

Melissa Lucashenko says that the shortlist:

is big on emerging voices writing in unconventional ways –  from regions, positions, and literary forms that transcend the mainstream. These authors are writing back, insisting that ‘other’ lives – First Nations lives, poor women’s lives, queer lives, and Filipina lives – matter on the page just as they do in everyday affairs. Although the shortlisted authors vary widely in location, gender, and culture, they all share two things. First, all six shortlistees undertake the essential work of any artist: paying attention to what is happening around them, and interrogating that experience. Second, the authors have produced powerfully beautiful literature, sacrificing no art in their unflinching focus on justice, inclusion, and truth-telling. It has been a great pleasure as well as an honour, to shine a light on these six brilliant talents.”

There’s more on the shortlist on the Stella website.

The winner on 28 April.

Any comments?

Stella Prize 2022 Longlist announced

Apologies to those of you who look forward to my Monday Musings post, but I’ve gazumped this week’s edition, because the Stella Prize longlist was announced this evening, and I do like to report on that. I attended the online streamed announcement.

As I say every year, I don’t do well at having read the Stella Prize longlist at the time of its announcement. In recent years the most I’ve read has been two (in 2019). Last year it was none. I don’t expect much better this year.

I was, however, doing better at reading the winners, having read Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds (2013), Clare Wright’s The forgotten rebels of Eureka (2014), Emily Bitto’s The strays (2015), Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things (2016), Heather Rose’s The museum of modern love (2017), and Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The erratics (2019). But, that’s slipping too. So far, I’ve missed 2018’s winner, Alexis Wright’s Tracker, am still reading 2020’s winner, Jess Hill’s See what you made me do, and still have last year’s winner, Evie Wyld’s The bass rock on my TBR.

The judges are a complete changeover from last year’s with the excellent, multi-award-winning Melissa Lucashenko taking the role of chair. Her co-judges are writer, poet, essayist Declan Fry; author-across-all-forms Cate Kennedy; memoirist and activist Sisonke Msimang; and essayist and screenwriter Oliver Reeson. As always, attention has been paid to diversity on the panel.

Oh, and I should note that a new form has been added to those eligible for the prize this year, single-author poetry collections. An excellent decision – as it turns out.

The longlist

  • Randa Abdel-Fattah, Coming of age in the War on Terror (nonfiction)
  • Eunice Andrada, Take care (poetry)
  • Evelyn Araluen, Dropbear (poetry) (TBR, Brona’s review)
  • Paige Clark, She is haunted (short stories)
  • Anwen Crawford, No document (memoir) (Lisa’s review)
  • Jennifer Down, Bodies of light (novel)
  • Anita Heiss, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (novel) (TBR, Lisa’s review)
  • Lee Lai, Stone fruit (graphic novel)
  • SJ Norman, Permafrost (short stories)
  • Elfie Shiosaki, Homecoming (memoir) (Lisa’s review)
  • Lucy Van, The Open (poetry) 
  • Chelsea Watego’s Another day in the colony (nonfiction) (Bill’s post)

I didn’t have a strong feel for what might be on the list, but did guess four that ended up there – Araluen, Crawford, Down and Watego. I should have thought of Heiss. On the other hand, although I haven’t read it yet, I was hoping to see Melinda Bobis’ The kindness of birds. However, as I haven’t read any of the longlist, I’m not going to judge. But I will say that the panel discussion that followed the announcement made powerful arguments for their choices. It might be a cliched thing to say, but it looks like a brave list that is likely to challenge readers.

In the lively and very enjoyable online discussion, the panel made some overall comments, as well as discussing individual books. They said that the flavour of the year was poetry. There are, in fact, three on the list. Interestingly, there are only two novels, but there is a graphic novel, and there are two short story collections, so fiction is still well represented. That leaves four works of nonfiction to round out the twelve.

The panel was “excited to have all genres in the list”, and made the strong point that it’s the message that matters more than the medium. It was very clear, as the evening progressed, that message was a critical issue for this panel, that works that interrogate and fiercely tackle the serious matters confronting us, are what most attracted them – whether from a political, or personal point of view, or both. As one who loves “message” in literature, I appreciate this. However, lest all this sound too bleakly serious, they also made the point that although the books are all “quite challenging”, in most there’s also wit, if not, in some, laugh-out-loud humour.

Finally, I’ll close with judging panel chair, Melissa Lucashenko’s opening comments:

In the aftermath of Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, Stella writers are not holding back… Australian women and non-binary writers are producing innovative, sophisticated literature in very difficult times. It has been a great privilege to read and assess their work for the 2022 Stella Prize.

To read more, do check out the Stella website.

The shortlist will be announced on 31 March, and the winner on 28 April.

Any comments?

Stella … 10 years

While the Stella Prize isn’t quite 10 years old, next year will see the awarding of the 10th prize. With that landmark in its sights, the Stella people decided to tweak the prize criteria, and have added single-author poetry collections to the forms eligible for the prize. An excellent move. Around the same time, they announced their 2022 judging panel – Melissa Lucashenko (chair), Declan Fry, Cate Kennedy, Sisonke Msimang, and Oliver Reeson – creating another nicely diverse panel.

Now and then: Ten years of Stella

To celebrate entering its 10th year, Stella held a zoom session involving three past winning and shortlisted authors, Carrie Tiffany (Mateship with birds), Emily Bitto (The strays), and Claire G. Coleman (Terra Nullius). (Links are to my reviews) The session was convened by Christine Gordon who introduced herself as a Stella founding member, and the Programming and Events coordinator for Melbourne’s Readings Bookshop.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was short and tightly focused on the value of the Stella. There was no Q&A, but I it was a good opportunity to hear from three writers whom I’ve read and reviewed here.

To honour the Prize’s inclusion of poetry collections next year, Christine started by reading from Evelyn Araluen’s poem “Acknowledgement of country” (from Dropbear). It’s a powerful, in-your-face poem that further inspired me to read this collection. (Brona has reviewed it, but doesn’t mention this particular poem.)

What did you know about the prize at the point your book was listed/won?

Mateship with Birds (Courtesy: Pan MacMillan)

Emily, who won the prize in its third year, remembers being excited by the idea behind the prize. Being a debut author, she didn’t know much about the literary landscape that inspired it, but she was amazed by the inequities that the Stella Count had revealed for women writers, across prizes, publishing, and reviewing. She was thrilled to win, but straight after, she found its value being questioned by men who wondered how worthwhile it was to win a prize only open to women! As the panel concurred, these critics didn’t understand the idea of an unequal playing field and its impact.

Carrie, Stella’s inaugural winner, said that she had not been overly aware of discrimination. She’d had good experience with her first novel – Everyman’s rules for scientific living – of the Orange Prize (now the Women’s Prize for Fiction), which was taken very seriously. But, she did experience backlash immediately after winning the Stella, with patronising articles in The Age and The Australian, for example. The latter described her book as a “bush romance”. Had someone like Carey or Winton written the book, she said, it would have been described in terms of exploring “nature and desire”. She said that her approach now would be to talk about history and women’s lack of opportunity and education, about how women have much catching up to do. Stella, she said, has more than broken the glass ceiling, it has “smashed the wall out of the building”.

Claire said that, like Carrie, she’d come to writing late, and had had no connection with the writing community. Being longlisted and then shortlisted for her debut novel was a profound endorsement.

What did winning mean for you?

Emily BItto, The strays, book cover

Christine noted that winning the Stella has a clear impact on sales. Emily agreed saying her book had been out for a year before winning the award, and sold as much in the first two weeks after winning as it had in that whole first year. Claire said after her shortlisting, her book achieved a spike in sales. Christine then mentioned the ongoing work Stella does to keep books in the public eye, over the long haul.

Choose a favourite poem

Christine asked each participant to share a favourite poem:

  • Claire read “White excellence” (Ellen van Neerven’s Throat, which Brona has also reviewed)
  • Carrie commented first that, while poetry collections are new to the prize, verse novels like Lisa Jacobsen’s shortlisted The sunlit zone had been eligible from the beginning. She read a poem dedicated to poet Anne Carson (Maria Takolander’s Trigger warning). She loved its focus on words and the concreteness of language.
  • Emily read “This landscape before me” by, she admitted, her friend, Sarah Holland-Batt. (Available at Poetry Foundation.

Why do you write/Earliest memories of writing

Emily talked about writing newspapers for her mother – from headlines right through to the sports news! As for why she writes, she described herself as an “angsty person” concerned about finding what we can do that’s meaningful. Books give her meaning, and she decided she wanted to contribute to that. Writing feels a worthwhile thing to do. (Amen to that, eh?) She added that winning the Stella was a wonderful endorsement.

Claire G Coleman, Terra nullius

Claire said, simply, that she was impelled to write Terra nullius: it was there and had to be written. In the process, though, she found that writing was something she could do, and that it is, in fact, the only job she’s suited for! She felt that being listed for this and other prizes helped create interest in her, which probably then helped her get her next books published. The prize changed her life in the sense that it told her that she could write.

Carrie, like Emily, sees reading as life-sustaining. She also likes that she can conceal herself in her writing, she can use the novel “to express me”. She believes in the role fiction can play in encouraging empathy: through novels we can “learn what it is to be someone else”. As to whether the prize was life-changing, she said that she was obliged, as a winner, to give lectures at universities. This was challenging as she’d never done it before! She also felt that her success with her first two novels meant people were more open to her later, more difficult book.

At this point, Christine closed the session, reminding us that Stella’s aim is to get women’s writing on everyone’s agenda, and asking us all to “Be a Stella Ambassador”. But of course!

I wouldn’t say I learnt anything earth-shatteringly new. However, through the experience of these quite different writers, I obtained a first-hand sense of what Stella can mean for writers. I also enjoyed getting to know these three a little more – and I loved all four poems that were shared. There’s something about hearing a poem read.

Stella Prize 2021 Winner announced

Unfortunately – though not really – I was not able to “attend” the online announcement as I did last year, as I’m spending a few days in the Snowy Mountains with Mr Gums and two friends.

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 4 March; and
  • the shortlist was announced on 25 March: Rebecca Giggs’ Fathoms: The world in the whale (non-fiction); SL Lim’s Revenge (fiction); Laura Jean McKay’s The animals in that country (fiction); Louise Milligan’s Witness (non-fiction); Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone sky gold mountain (fiction); Evie Wyld’s The bass rock (fiction)

And the winner, from 160 entries, is British-Australian author Evie Wyld’s The bass rock. Jaclyn Booth, Stella Prize’s Executive Director, called it “a gripping novel that is unlike anything I’ve read before”, and judging panel chair, Zoya Patel, says that it “forces the reader to think and engage with the unique narrative structure, but in a way that feels effortless, so engaged are you by the story.” It deals with the legacy, and trauma, of male violence, so is very much a “zeitgeist book”, which is to say, it’s relevant to our times. I must read it, as I have the previous fiction winners …

It is the fifth work of fiction to win in nine years. The previous four were Heather Rose’s The museum of modern love (2017, my review), Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things (2016, my review), Emily Bitto’s The strays (2015, my review), and Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds (2013, my review).

You can read more about the book on the Stella website.

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.

Stella Prize and Christina Stead Prize for Fiction 2021 Shortlists announced

With two shortlists being announced on the heels of each other, I thought I would combine them into one post, so here goes …

Stella Prize Shortlist

The Stella Prize shortlist was announced this morning and is, I suppose, a bit of a surprise for me – though I haven’t read the books so I have nothing to base that on. I was hoping Ellen Savage’s Blueberries, Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile and Elizabeth Savage’s Smart ovens for lonely people would be in the list as they are on my TBR or I’m keen to read them. However, besides the Stella judges, I have it on good authority from other bloggers that many of the books below are excellent reads, so … on with the show … and I’ll see what I can read!

The shortlist

Book cover

Stella’s Executive Director, Jaclyn Booton makes a political point – which is very Stella!:

As recent events have shown, there’s significant cultural change needed in this country to ensure women’s voices are heard. Books can be a tool for positive social change – I encourage everyone to seek out these books and delve into the stories and perspectives within.

The judge’s chair, Zoya Patel, says:

“The 2021 Stella Prize shortlist truly demonstrates the immensity of talent in Australian women and non-binary authors. This shortlist is varied, diverse, and reflects on urgent themes across the gamut of human experience.

To read the judges on each of the shortlisted books, do check out the Stella website.

The winner will be announced on April 22.

NSW Premiers Literary Awards

Unlike the Stella, these awards comprise several categories, but I’m just going to share the two fiction ones.

Book cover

The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

  • Kate Grenville’s A room made of leaves
  • Carol LeFevre’s Murmurations (my review)
  • Laura McPhee-Browne’s Cherry Beach
  • Pip Williams’ The dictionary of lost words
  • Charlotte Wood’s The weekend (my review)
  • Evie Wyld’s The bass rock

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing

  • Erin Hortle’s The octopus and I
  • Laura McPhee-Browne’s Cherry Beach
  • Sean O’Beirne’s A couple of things before the end
  • Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile
  • Madeleine Watts’ The Inland Sea

For more categories in these awards, and links to her own and other bloggers’ reviews, please see Lisa’s post on them.

Any comments?

Stella Prize 2021 Longlist announced

Unfortunately, because I’m on the road, I wasn’t able to “attend” the announcement earlier this evening, but at least I have been able to get my post out on the night, as it were.

As I say every year, I think, 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, one, and in 2019, two! Last year, I was back to one! By the end of 2020, I’d read 3.5 which is worse than previous years.

Again, as I’ve said before, I do better at reading the winners, having read Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds (2013), Clare Wright’s The forgotten rebels of Eureka (2014), Emily Bitto’s The strays (2015), Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things (2016), Heather Rose’s The museum of modern love (2017), and Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The erratics (2019). So far, I’ve missed 2018’s winner, Alexis Wright’s Tracker, and I’m only halfway through reading last year’s winner, Jess Hill’s See what you made me do. I will finish though, as it’s a significant book I believe.

The judges are again different to last year’s with only Zoya Patel (this year’s chair), continuing on the panel: memoirist and editor Zoya Patel (Chair); playwright, author and Blak & Bright First Nations Literary Festival Director Jane Harrison; 3RRR radio producer, presenter and literary critic Elizabeth McCarthy;  production editor of The Saturday Paper Ian See; and Deputy Programme Director at Edinburgh Book Festival Tamara Zimet. As always, attention has been paid to diversity on the panel.

The longlist

Book cover
  • Rebecca Giggs’ Fathoms: The world in the whale (non-fiction)
  • SL Lim’s Revenge (fiction) (Lisa’s review)
  • Laura Jean McKay’s The animals in that country (fiction)
  • Louise Milligan’s Witness (non-fiction)
  • Cath Moore’s Metal fish, falling snow (fiction)
  • Intan Paramaditha’s The wandering (fiction)
  • Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone sky gold mountain (fiction) (on TBR; Kate’s mini-review)
  • Ellena Savage’s Blueberries (non-fiction/essays)
  • Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile (fiction) (on TBR)
  • Elizabeth Tan’s Smart ovens for lonely people (short stories) (Bill’s review and on TBR)
  • Jessie Tu’s A lonely girl is a dangerous thing (fiction) (Kim’s review)
  • Evie Wyld’s The bass rock (fiction)

Well, I guessed five of these might be in the list – McKay, Riwoe, Simpson, Tan and Tu, but I also guessed some more non-fiction like Grace Karskens’ People of the river, and Jacqueline Kent’s Vida. However, as I haven’t read any of the longlist – and have not, in fact, heard of several of them – I’m not going to judge. I’ll just say, how interesting!

Oh, and for the record, I’ve read none – though I have a few on my pile!

The judges’ chair, Zoya Patel commented on the longlist:

The 2021 Stella Prize longlist demonstrates the breadth of expression present in Australian literature, and the importance of raising the profile of women and non-binary voices in celebrating this expansive talent. In reading these titles, we pondered what might be lost or overlooked should a prize such as the Stella not exist to specifically examine the output of Australian women and non-binary writers. […]

This year’s reading presented a diversity of talent and expression, with books exploring the people and animals through the lens of fiction and non-fiction, and with a common objective to reach into the heart of what it means to exist in the world today.

To read the judges on each of the longlisted books, do check out the Stella website.

Stella’s announcements are all later this year than in previous years – including this longlist which has usually been announced in February. So, the shortlist will be announced on March 25, and the winner on April 22.

Any comments?

Stella Prize 2020 Winner announced

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.

Stella Prize 2020 Shortlist announced

Well, lookee here, the Stella Prize shortlist was announced this morning while I was at Tai Chi so I am just getting to it now. And, I am rather pleased because, although I’ve only read one of the six, I am currently reading another, and have a third on my reading group schedule, so that’s half of them without really trying! Not that I don’t WANT to try, but my reading schedule is so packed that I find it HARD to try. I therefore love it when the listed books are ones I plan to read anyhow.

So …

Book coverThe shortlist:

  • 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) (will be read in May) (Lisa’s review)
  • Josephine Rowe’s Here until August (short stories)
  • Tara June Winch’s The yield (novel) (reading now) (Lisa’s review)
  • Charlotte Wood’s The weekend (novel) (my review)

After a rather “out there” longlist, which included several books many of us had not heard of, the shortlist, as often happens with the Stella I think, has narrowed down to a less surprising list. Would most you you agree with that? This is not being critical of the longlist – because I hadn’t read most of those books – but simply saying that the shortlist seems more geared to the books that have been generally well received critically. I like to think that that’s because they shine out …

Anyhow, the judges’ chair, Louise Swinn commented on the shortlist that:

Writers across the gamut of their career appear on the 2020 Stella Prize shortlist, which includes authors who are household names alongside some we are just getting acquainted with. The six books on this year’s shortlist are all outward-looking, and they tell stories – of illness, family life, friendship, domestic abuse, and more – in remarkable ways. If language is a tool, or a weapon, then these writers use their skills with tremendous courage. We found a lot to be hopeful about here, too – not just at the stories being told, but at the quality of the art being produced.

The winner will be announced on April 8.

Any comments?