In 2016 the winner of the Stella Prize was Charlotte Wood for The Natural Way of Things!
The $50,000 prize, named after one of Australia’s iconic female authors, Stella Maria Sarah ‘Miles’ Franklin, was awarded for the first time in 2013. Both non-fiction and fiction books by Australian women are eligible. Among the stated aims of the Stella Prize are to recognise and celebrate Australian women writers’ contribution to literature and to bring more readers and increasing sales for those writers.
All the finalists this year was outstanding, and you can read our mini- reviews of the winner and all the shortlisted titles below (you can click on the titles or covers for more information).
WINNER: The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Fresh off a win for the Indie Book of the Year, The Natural Way of Things has made a huge splash in the Australian publishing world. The dark, enthrallingly told novel of the friendship two women cultivate while trapped in a shack in the middle of nowhere has gripped readers all over the country, and love for this book is spreading.
Yolanda, Verla and the other women are held captive, desperate for answers and searching for an escape. It’s a book about power, control, misogyny and survival, and has been mentioned in the same breath as The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies. Wood is the author of five previous novels, one non-fiction book and is also the editor of The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine.
Six Bedrooms by Tegan Bennett Daylight
This collection of stories forms a realistically raw coming of age. We meet Tasha at a teenage party, in a sunken lounge room, as Madonna’s new record Like A Virgin comes on. Tasha realises she doesn’t know what that means, to be ‘reclaimed like that, to find a love so fresh’. She understands the virgin part.
Throughout the next nine pieces we lose and revisit Tasha throughout her life, as it both comes together and completely falls apart. We get brief windows into the lives of others, snippets that feel deeply personal and excruciatingly real. Bennett Daylight is also the author of three novels, Bombora, What Falls Away and Safety and has previously been nominated for the Australian/Vogel Literary Award and the Kathleen Mitchell Award.
Hope Farm by Peggy Frew
At thirteen, Silver is starting over, again. It is 1985, it’s cold, and her mother, Ishtar, has fallen for a new man. Together they join a commune at Hope Farm, and while Ishtar can slide seamlessly into a new existence, it is harder for Silver to readjust to the uninhibited world of adulthood. There’s the noises, the land, the people.
The book is recounted through Silver’s memory, as she recalls that year ‘in bright snatches of mindless physicality.’ As Silver begins to discover a ‘gypsy girl’ identity, dark events at the farm unfold and the full truth is revealed. This is Frew’s second novel after her debut, House of Sticks, won the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is certainly one to watch!
A Few Days in the Country by Elizabeth Harrower
Harrower is a grand dame of Australian literature, with huge love from critics and readers alike for her first five novels. This collection of short stories brings togther old tales from the archives, pieces previously published in Australian literary journals of the 1960’s and 70’s, and more recent works.
Stories include Alice in which a beautiful young child with red-gold curls and full of ‘guileless life’ learns where always aiming to please can lead. The City at Night, a glimpse of two girls’ friendship in Sydney, and The Cornucopia, which follows the unflappable Julia Holt. Next month Harrower is giving her second ever public interview, this time with Michael Heyward, the publisher who helped to rejuvenate interest in her work.
The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau
Poignant and sad, yet poetic and uplifting, it’s truly a novel of its time. A North Coast hinterland community is in crisis after a commune mysteriously burns down -bees are dying; the air and water are polluted, and the soil is degraded from overuse and mining. The Müller family is in turmoil too.
At the heart of the novel is a mystery that’s not solved until the final pages. What happens in the bee community is a subtle reflection of the Müller family and the whole community – one thing goes awry and everything is affected. The World Without Us touches on infidelity, love, loss and grief but also healing, hope and what it means to be human in the contemporary world.
Juchau’s previous novels, Burning In and Machines For Feelings, were shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright
The only non-fiction on the shortlist, Wright’s essays track her decade of struggle with an eating disorder. A poet by trade, Wright turns her critical eye onto the ways hunger, in all its forms, has structured her life.
The essays, with titles such as ‘In Hospital’, ‘In Berlin’ and ‘In Books,’ all meet Wright at different points as she approaches and understands her anorexia, although she isn’t sure ‘that there can be a narrative about potentiality, provisionality, for what it means to try to change.’ Her writing is smart, graceful, and achingly honest.
You can see all the longlisted titles here. You can catch many of these authors at the Sydney Writer’s Festival this May, click here to learn more.