“I feel like we’re at the Oscars, the Oscars for nerds” announced Benjamin Law at last night’s Stella Prize longlist announcement ceremony in Sydney. And with that, the fifth Stella Prize longlist was announced.
This year non-fiction was spotlighted, with issues exploring human frailty and mortality, racism, offshore detention, and alcohol abuse all taking centre stage; all topical issues. Of the twelve longlisted titles (which were whittled down from 180 entries), only four were works of fiction.
The panel of judges included novelist and literary critic Delia Falconer, writer Benjamin Law, author and academic Brenda Walker, editor Sandra Phillips, and bookseller Diana Johnston.
The shortlist will be announced on 8 March 2017. The winner and recipient of the $50,000 prize money will be announced on 18 April 2017.
The 12 Longlisted Titles
Julia Baird’s Victoria is the intimate biography of Queen Victoria, who was crowned sovereign of the United Kingdom in 1837 and reigned for 64 years. Suffrage, anti-poverty and anti-slavery movements can all be traced back to her monumental reign. Of the book, the judges said it was a “compelling biography based on exhaustive research, replete with vibrant prose”. Listen to Julia chat about her latest book on the Booktopia Podcast.
A further biography making the longlist, and one that the judges pronounced “an instant classic for the biography genre”, is Catherine de Saint Phalle’s Poum and Alexandre, a searingly honest, humorous and moving elegy to family and place, and a meditation on the ways they ultimately define us.
Madeline Gleeson recently won the Non-fiction Prize for Offshore: Behind the wire on Manus and Nauru at the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Now longlisted for the Stella Prize, it’s a comprehensive and uncompromising book explaining the happenings on Mauru and Manus since Australia began its offshore processing regime in 2012. The judges called it “a rigorous, comprehensive narrative of one of the central challenges of our times – the care of those who seek asylum in Australia when life in their countries become untenable”.
“A work of national significance” is what the judges proclaimed Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race to be, a memoir also recently shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Prize at the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. It’s an account of Clarke growing up in suburban Australia, and how the colour of her skin made her the target of astonishing discrimination. Clarke is an Australian author and poet of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Julia Leigh’s Avalanche tracks the aftermath of her decision to stop IVF, after a long and costly journey of nightly injections, blood tests, and surgeries. “It’s as much about the desire to be a mother and maternal love as it is a clear account of a love affair gone wrong, and an investigation into the medical industry that trades on hope”, said the judges.
“Engaging, generous and multi-faceted” is what the judges called Elspeth Muir’s Wasted, her memoir/reportage of the devastating death of her younger brother who drowned in an alcohol-fueled celebration. She not only tries to make sense of her own brother’s death, but also traces her own history with alcohol.
Cory Taylor’s Dying: A Memoir was written in the final weeks of her life whilst battling terminal cancer. She doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to examining our personal rights in death; she begins the book by explaining that she bought life-ending drugs online from China, and doesn’t blanch from the issues around assisted dying. The judges said that “instead of offering easy answers about death, [the book] offers solidarity, solace and comfort in making dying bearable… it becomes life affirming”.
A further book that delves into mortality is Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog, a work of fiction which recently took home the Prize for Fiction at the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Blain was diagnosed with brain cancer in November 2015, but sadly lost her battle to the disease in December 2016. The central character in Between a Wolf and a Dog was diagnosed with brain cancer, written before Blain’s own diagnosis. Of the book, the judges called it a “literary triumph, finely structured, suspenseful and morally acute.” Read Caroline Baum’s review of the book.
Part memoir, part ethical investigation, Sonya Voumard’s The Media and the Massacre returns to the catastrophe that was Port Arthur and examines the way it was reported, and the fascinating theme of ‘the writer’s treachery’. The judges called it a “compelling, humane and scrupulous investigation into journalism itself”.
Emily McGuire’s An Isolated Incident is a “murder mystery that transforms the genre” said the judges. When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends. Similarly to The Media and the Massacre, it examines the part the media plays in sensationalising crime, whilst also dealing with violence against women.
Heather Rose’s seventh novel, The Museum of Modern Love, was called an “ambitious yet never contrived novel inspired by the work of the Yugoslavian born artist Marina Abramovic that demonstrates the value of art as a catalyst for love and connection”. Rose has previously won the Davitt Award and been shortlisted for the Nita B Kibble Award and the Aurealis Awards.
Fiona McFarlane’s The High Places is the only collection of fictional short stories making the longlist this year. Of these stories, the judges said they were “consistently brilliant, effortlessly investigating the inner terrain of people’s secrets and regrets with rich emotion and insight”.