Last night I attended the launch party of the Stella Sparks program, an initiative by the Stella Prize to highlight works by female Australian authors, works that have inspired or moved you. The night consisted of seven writers who all spoke of an Australian book that has “sparked” them, and was concluded with the announcement of the 2016 Stella Award Longlist (more on that later).
As the Stella Prize website says:
The Stella Prize is a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing, and championing diversity and cultural change.
The prize is named after one of Australia’s iconic female authors, Stella Maria Sarah ‘Miles’ Franklin, and was awarded for the first time in 2013. Both nonfiction and fiction books by Australian women are eligible for entry.
The Stella Prize seeks to:
- recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature
- bring more readers to books by women and thus increase their sales
- provide role models for schoolgirls and emerging female writers
- reward one writer with a $50,000 prize – money that buys a writer some measure of financial independence and thus time, that most undervalued yet necessary commodity for women, to focus on their writing
The speaking guests, in order of appearance were:
Carrie Tiffany, the inaugural Stella Prize winner, in 2013, for “Mateship with Birds” who spoke about her connection with Elizabeth Jolley and more specifically the book “Palomino”, a novel she borrowed from the local library aged 15 thinking it was the tale of a horse, only to discover it is a haunting tale of the deep relationship between two women, set in the rural landscape of Western Australia.
Alice Pung, writer of “Unpolished Gem”, “Her Father’s Daughter” and “Laurinda” chose Ruth Park as her “spark”, a writer to “takes the pedestrian folk and turns them into literature.” Park teaching her the importance of character. Her description of Park juggling her writing career and her household duties was one of the anecdotes of the evening.
Next up was the only male presenter, the very successful Andy Griffiths, as he would prefer not to be known purely for his book “The Day My Bum Went Psycho”, I’ll also mention “The 13-Story Treehouse”, “Killer Koalas from Outer Space and Lots of Other Very Bad Stuff that Will Make Your Brian Explode”. He had a number of female influences, but singled out Carmel Bird, not only for being a teacher and a mentor but also for her short story collection “The Woodpecker Toy Fact”.
2014 Stella Prize winner Claire Wright, for her work “The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka”, spoke of her university influences, her time in a shared house where other housemate’s clothes were sacred and her discovery of Anne Summers “Damned Whores and God’s Police” a book that has been updated twice since its publication in 1975, it is a work on the role of women in Australian society.
Celeste Liddle, an Arrernte woman and writer of the “Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist” blog at http://blackfeministranter.blogspot.com.au/ chose Robin Klein’s “People Might Hear You” and the messages of entrapment and escape. The “cult” of Klein’s novel bearing stark similarities to her growing up as an aboriginal girl. A passionate and moving presentation indeed.
Singer, best known for her work fronting the indie pop band Frente, Angie Hart was the next presenter, giving a very passionate and moving speech about death and grieving and the lack of any creative output during this time in her life. It took the discovery of Dorothy Parker’s poetry and more specifically the collection “The Bee Hut” and “The Burial” by Courtney Collins to help her through the process of death and grieving.
The presentations ended with 2015 Stella Prize winner, for her novel “The Strays”, Emily Bitto, talking about “The Man Who Loved Children” by Christina Stead. The book making her “want to learn and observe the world”. She also spoke of the edition she owns (cover image above) and the fact that the design has a tea cup, designed for a female audience? And something particularly riling? Jonathan Frazen’s name (as the writer of the introduction) is more prominent and bolder than the writer Christina Stead herself.
Overall a very enjoyable night of well-known writers talking about the female influences, giving any reader a wonderful list of works to hunt down and read to enrich their own lives. May the Stella Award continue to thrive and may they arrange similar events throughout the year, as they are thought provoking, moving, educational, inspiring and of course, enjoyable.
The night concluded with the announcement of the twelve books on the 2016 Stella Prize Longlist (my review of Charlotte Wood’s novel in linked in the listing):
- The Women’s Pages by Debra Adelaide (Pan Macmillan)
- The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop (Hachette)
- Panthers and the Museum of Fire by Jen Craig (Spineless Wonders)
- Six Bedrooms by Tegan Bennett Daylight (Random House)
- Hope Farm by Peggy Frew (Scribe)
- A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories by Elizabeth Harrower (Text)
- A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones (Random House)
- The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau (Bloomsbury)
- A Short History of Richard Kline by Amanda Lohrey (Black Inc.)
- Anchor Point by Alice Robinson (Affirm Press)
- The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (Allen & Unwin)
- Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger by Fiona Wright (Giramondo)
Other reviews will be forthcoming as I own Mireille Juchau’s “The World Without Us”, as the winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and picked up a copy of “Panthers and the Museum of Fire” by Jen Craig at the event itself. Unfortunately I didn’t win the door prize/raffle of the full longlist, it simply means more visits to the bookshops and libraries.