The Stella Prize’s stated purpose is ‘celebrating Australian women’s writing’ and the event held to award the latest prize, on 29 April 2014, certainly lived up to that intention. A large group of writers, publishers, booksellers, publicists, agents and readers gathered at Galleries UNSW in the inner Sydney suburb of Paddington to congratulate not just the prize’s winner but the five other shortlisted authors, each of whom had created an outstanding work.
The shortlist was evenly split between fiction and non-fiction works, as the Stella judges ‘women’s writing’ not ‘women’s fiction’. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent Night Games by Anna Krien The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir by Kristina Olsson The Swan Book by Alexis Wright The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright The inaugural winner of the Stella, in 2013, was Carrie Tiffany for Mateship with Birds and Tiffany was present as the 2014 Stella was given to Clare Wright. The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka is an account of the women who lived on the goldfields of Victoria. Largely ignored by history, they nevertheless played an integral part in Eureka’s society, running newspapers and hotels, organising balls and childcare. As Kerryn Goldsworthy, chair of the 2014 judging panel, wrote, ‘The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka is a revisionist history written not in a corrective or a combative way, but as something more positive and celebratory: Wright does not attempt to discredit existing versions of events, but rather to deepen and enrich our knowledge of Eureka and our understanding of its place in Australian history.’ Wright, an historian and academic, gave an impassioned and inspiring speech in a night that was full of wonderful words from other speakers, including judge Annabel Crabb, best known to Australian readers as the ABC’s chief online political writer. In keeping with Tiffany’s gift last year of a portion of her prize money to her fellow shortlistees, Wright will give a percentage of her prize money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and a matching amount to her local high school, Northcote High, to be held in trust for the establishment of the Eureka Prize for Women’s History. The awarding of the 2014 Stella Prize to a work of non-fiction served to emphasise that the prize seeks to recognise excellence in writing in all its forms, and that it is, fundamentally, interested in great stories. In this way the prize is sure to make its mark with readers as much as with writers and the publishing industry. And given the good feeling in the room on April the 29th, it has already succeeded.