2013 Miles Franklin Shortlist: All Women, For the First Time

The Miles Franklin shortlist for 2013 has been announced - and in a reverse of the much-talked-about ‘sausagefests’ of 2009 and 2011, all five of the shortlisted authors are women.

This is the first ever all-female shortlist.

There have been four all-male shortlists since 1987 (the first year that shortlists were released) – in 1992, 1994, 2009 and 2011.

Floundering by Romy Ash (Text Publishing)

Questions of Travel by Michelle De Kretser (Allen & Unwin)

The Beloved by Annah Faulkner (Picador)

The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska (Vintage)

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Picador)

‘A good year for women’s fiction’

Aviva Tuffield

Aviva Tuffield

This historic event coincides with the first awarding of the Stella Prize, established to increase recognition of Australian women writers. We asked Aviva Tuffield, chair of The Stella Prize, whether she thought it had any influence.

‘If we were being self-congratulatory, we’d like to think that the Stella Prize has had an impact on making all prize judges and literary editors aware of their unconscious biases,’ she says. ‘However, we have no evidence of our impact on the Miles Franklin, obviously.’

‘It does seem to have been a good year for women’s fiction.’

Richard Neville, speaking on behalf of the Miles Franklin judging panel, said the novels shared a common theme. ‘The five novels … are at a surface level all about family – the searching for their comfort, the crises when they fail, escaping their pervasive grasp, or the despair when they do not seem possible – but more deeply, these books write about the intersection of people’s lives with national, indeed international, stories and ideas.’

Sophie Cunningham, a member of the Stella Prize board and chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, is struck not by common themes, but by ‘the incredible breadth of women’s writing on that shortlist’. Having read four of the five books, she commends them all as ‘superb’.

‘It’s a very strong shortlist,’ she says.

On gender terms

Simon Lewis, speaking on behalf of the Trust company (who administers the award) commented on the gender issue in his congratulations. ‘The shortlist demonstrates how strong Australia’s pipeline of female literary talent really is, as witnessed with last year’s Miles Franklin winner, Anna Funder, as well as by the growing number of first time female authors included in the long and shortlists in recent years.’

Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch

“There isn’t a doubt that if you were to look at the 2013 field on gender terms, the female contingent was the more robust – although that said, there were some male writers that probably deserved to be on the longlist, from Christopher Koch to Michael Sala,‘ says Martin Shaw, books division manager at Readings Books Music & Film. 'Do we put the judging decisions then down to politics or aesthetics? Naturally the latter …’

‘There wasn’t talk of too many glaring omissions of novels by men on the Miles Franklin, although I’m sure individual publishers would each have their lists,’ says Aviva Tuffield. ‘Personally, I did expect to see Christopher Koch on the Miles longlist. Next year’s shortlist would, I’d imagine, be different, as there are new books by Tim Winton, Christos Tsiolkas and Richard Flanagan in the works.’

Not related to ‘makeover’

Patrick Allington

Patrick Allington

We also spoke to Patrick Allington, whose novel Figurehead was longlisted for the Miles Franklin in 2010; he has written at length about the award (and its limitations) for an Australian Book Review fellowship.

‘While the Miles Franklin Literary Award does seem to be in the midst of a carefully constructed makeover – it’s a work in progress – I’m also wary of the implication that the judges might be “in” on some PR ploy or even that they are using the shortlist to overtly respond to pressure, real or perceived, he says.

‘I’m pretty sure, for example, that the fine literary scholar Susan Sheridan (now one of the Miles Franklin judges) needs no help to understand the rich and storied but under-recognised contribution that Australian women writers have made to our cultural landscape – including the Miles Franklin Award’s serious under-recognition of women novelists over the decades.’

Backlash?

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Reviewer Kerryn Goldsworthy, a former Miles Franklin judge, says a backlash may be on its way ‘from certain affronted men who’ve never got their heads around the concept of the level playing field, and will complain about there being no male writers on the list. My answer to them would be 'Miffed, are you? Good, now you know how we felt’.'

‘Prizes are all about making the near-invisible (so much terrific writing is published with barely a mention in our media) visible to a wider audience,’ reflects Martin Shaw. ‘No contemporary book judge can be unaware of the historical foreshortening of perspective as to which gender produces the most significant literature. So it bodes well for the future of Ozlit, and its critical recognition, that the playing field is becoming ever more level.’

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