Stella prize 2017: ‘urgent national issues’ dominate longlist of Australian women writers

Racism, offshore detention and violence against women among themes explored in longlist which includes Julia Baird, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Julia Leigh.

Julia Baird, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Julia Leigh and recently deceased writers Georgia Blain and Cory Taylor are among 12 authors whose books have been longlisted in the 2017 Stella prize, celebrating Australian women writers.

The list was whittled down from more than 180 entries by a panel of judges, including author and academic Brenda Walker, literary critic Delia Falconer, bookseller Diana Johnston, editor Sandra Phillips and writer Benjamin Law.

Also longlisted were Emily Maguire, Madeline Gleeson, Fiona McFarlane, Elspeth Muir, Heather Rose, Catherine de Saint Phalle and Sonya Voumard.

In the judging statement, panel chair Walker said this year’s longlist was notable for its topicality, and its heavy weighting towards nonfiction and investigative research.

“Many of them address urgent national issues with particular relevance to women, at a time when women are fighting to be politically seen and heard, and to secure their positions in the public sphere,” Walker said.

“The writing on this longlist takes a strong stand against issues such as racism, offshore incarceration, violence against women and alcohol abuse.”

Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race chronicles the cumulative effects racism had on the writer’s early life; An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire is a crime novel that deals explicitly with violence against women; Elspeth Muir wrote memoir Wasted after her 21-year-old brother killed himself by jumping into a river while drunk; and Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson, which won in the nonfiction category of the Victorian Premier’s Literary award in January, is an investigation into Australia’s offshore detention policy.

The Avalanche, written after Julia Leigh decided to stop unsuccessful IVF treatment, is an unflinching and personal look at the psychological costs of the multibillion-dollar industry. The Media and the Massacre is journalist Sonya Voumard’s literary investigation into the Port Arthur massacre and how it was reported. Two of the books on the longlist explore the dying process: Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain and Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor. Both authors died from cancer in 2016.

“These are important contributions to the national conversation, and help us to move towards a more inclusive and empathetic Australian society,” said Walker.

Named for Stella Miles Franklin, who wrote My Brilliant Career under a male pseudonym, the longlist was announced at an event in Sydney on Tuesday evening which featured readings from performance artist and poet Candy Royalle, writer and actor Nakkiah Lui, past Stella nominee Fiona Wright, and Charlotte Wood, who won the 2016 Stella prize for her book The Natural Way of Things.

The $50,000 Stella prize will be awarded on 8 March.

2017 Stella longlist

  • Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain
  • Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird
  • The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke
  • Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle
  • Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson
  • Avalanche by Julia Leigh
  • An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire
  • The High Places by Fiona McFarlane
  • Wasted: A Story of Alcohol, Grief and a Death in Brisbane by Elspeth Muir
  • The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose
  • Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
  • The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

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