I was honoured to be able to attend the announcement of the inaugural Stella Prize winner on Tuesday night, both as an interested observer and also as a representative of the team who run the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
In some ways it seems like such a long time has passed since the prize was initially announced and then officially launched 18 months ago. In other ways, the journey from idea to fruition seems to have passed quite quickly. There was a great sense of achievement with the initial prize announcement but also that this was just the beginning with the aim that this be an ongoing award for years to come,.
The evening began with drinks and nibbles before the official festivities began. The first speaker was Aviva Tuffield, chair of the Board for the prize, who amongst other things acknowledged the hard work of the judges, the employees, the board and numerous volunteers.
The key speaker for the evening was Helen Garner, who in addition to playing a role on the night, also helped shape the format of the prize. When she was initially asked to be involved with the prize, she was going to turn them down but she didn’t want to say so directly, and so she said that she would only be involved as long as there were no restrictions on form or genre. She thought that they wouldn’t agree to such a condition, but they did, and so here she was on the big night. I have to say that this particular aspect of the Stella is one of my favourites. I love that on the inaugural shortlist there was a fantasy novel, a novel told in verse set in a future world, a short story collection, books with historical settings and more.
Garner also talked on the importance of winning prizes, of losing them (and trying to look gracious in the process), and of being involved in the judging process. She also touched on the idea that it was great not to need a prize such as this, but that at this point in time it is very much still necessary and would continue to be so until such time as she didn’t meet men who complimented her by saying that their wives had read all of her books, or that books by female authors were given flowery covers no matter how dark the story within was.
The next speaker, and the person given the job of announcing the winner was head of the judging committee, Kerryn Goldsworthy. It was interesting to hear her talk about the linear connection that has flowed through the last few decades. She paid homage to influential women who have paved the way for our current generations – women like publishers Hilary McPhee and Di Gribble and authors Helen Garner and Drusilla Modjeska.
Even to an avid reader like me the idea of having to judge more than 200 entrants to get to a final longlist of 12 books, to further hone the list down to a shortlist of 6, and then ultimately to choose a winner from that shortlist sounds like an incredibly difficult process. In the lead up to the announcement Goldsworthy acknowledged that any of the six shortlisted novels would have been worthy winners. And then, the moment that we were all gathered for. … the winner of the inaugural Stella Prize is Carrie Tiffany for Mateship for Birds.
Carrie Tiffany’s acceptance speech was warm, generous and incredibly inclusive of the other authors in the room in several ways. She called the other listed authors in the room to come up the front with her and particularly acknowledged the role that some of them have played in her own road to success.
One moment in the speech that was well received was when Tiffany said that the Stella is also important because it gives Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin back her name, the name that she couldn’t be published under for fear that she would reveal her gender.
I think that one gesture that moved the whole crowd was the announcement that Tiffany was donating $10000 of the prize back to the organisers to distribute to the other shortlisted authors. She had earlier acknowledged how much she had admired books by all of the authors. Tiffany said that “when you give writers money you are actually giving them time, and if I can hasten a little the next books of these women, well, why wouldn’t I”. She also expressed the hope that this might be something that the prize could take on board as a new model for the prize going forward.
If you are interested in hearing Carrie Tiffany’s acceptance speech in its entirety, you can do so by clicking on the link below
If you are interested in reading further summaries there are a number of links below.
Tonight I was also an interested observer at the discussion A Prize of Our Own: The Stella Prize which was held at The Wheeler Centre. The discussion featured Carrie Tiffany, Kerryn Goldsorthy, Aviva Tuffield and Ellen Koshland. While a lot of the discussion was around things that we have heard before like how the prize came into existence, the judging process and more, I was interested to hear about future plans. The prize has been secured for the next three years, but the Stella organisation has big plans which include mentoring young authors, working with schools, and trying to influence the reading lists because they are so skewed towards male authors and more! It sounds like there are lots of good things ahead for the Stella Prize.
It was exciting to be at an event where the whole crowd was buzzing with excitement and with their shared passion for books in general, and more specifically for books by Australian women writers. Thanks to The Stella Prize for inviting me as a representative of the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
*To read some of the challenge participants thoughts about the winning book check out our summary of the shortlisted novels here.
Marg has long been an avid reader of all genres but especially Historical Fiction. She has very strong memories of reading through the entire collection of Jean Plaidy novels in the school library and loves to read about all different eras and locations. Marg has been blogging about all different genres and other things at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader for more than 7 years, and was a founding member of Historical Tapestry, a group blog that has been focusing only on Historical Fiction for more than 5 years. You can tweet to her either @margreads or @historytapestry.