Stella!: Australian Prize for Women’s Literature Launched

Australia’s first major literary prize for women’s writing, The Stella Prize, will be officially launched in 2013. One woman with a book published in 2012 will receive $50,000 in prize money.

The prize is designed to celebrate and recognise Australian women’s writing, encourage a future generation of Australian writers, and significantly increase the readership of books by women. It takes its inspiration from the UK Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize).

Named after Stella Maria Miles Franklin, the iconic feminist author of My Brilliant Career, The Stella Prize was conceived just days before an all-male shortlist was announced for the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award. (The 2009 shortlist was also all-male.) Australia’s most prestigious literary award, established by a bequest in Miles Franklin’s will, has been dominated by male authors since its establishment. In 55 years, there have been 14 female winners and 40 male winners.

This year, Anna Funder won the Miles Franklin for her first novel, All That I Am. Last week, another woman won the Booker Prize (which traditionally has a similarly poor gender balance among its winners), when Hilary Mantel won for the second time in three years for Bring up the Bodies.

‘Having successful women writers in one year doesn’t change the pattern of women writers not being as successful as they might have been,’ Kirsten Tranter, a novelist and member of the Stella Prize board, told SBS television.

‘I think it’s a good step forward,’ Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick told SBS. ‘I think when you create a prize that’s only for women, that celebrates female writers, you acknowledge their contribution and inspire a whole new generation of female writers.’

The Stella Prize is open to both fiction and non-fiction, making it unique among literary prizes.

Helen Garner, an ambassador of The Stella Prize, has welcomed the decision. ‘I hope The Stella Prize, with its graceful flexibility about genre, will encourage women writers to work in the forms they feel truly at home in, instead of having to squeeze themselves into the old traditional corsets,’ she says.

The judging panel for the inaugural prize will be chaired by respected critic and writer Kerryn Goldsworthy and comprising Kate Grenville (author), Claudia Karvan (actor), Fiona Stager (co-owner of Avid Reader bookstore and immediate past president of the Australian Booksellers’ Association) and Rafael Epstein (ABC broadcaster).

The bulk of the prize’s initial funding came from education philanthropist Ellen Koshland, with restaurateurs Patricia O'Donnell and Michelle Garnaut the other major donors. ‘We have money for the first year but hope something real will be much more attractive to sponsors,’ Tuffield told the Age.

Entries for The Stella Prize are open from now until Thursday 15 November.

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