Stella Prize winning author Clare Wright spent ten years researching her book, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, culminating in a 500-page tome of captivating storytelling sharing the lives and experiences of women during the Gold Rush.
Her work was celebrated when she was named the $ 50,000 prize recipient in Sydney last night, and offered a reminder of why we should all indulge in the stories by and about women from time to time, no matter how removed they are from our every day experiences.
What was really telling during the Stella process this year was the incredible standard of the six books shortlisted for the women’s only award – reflecting the broad range of talented female writers this country calls its own, as well as the wide scope for sharing brilliant stories of women in both fiction and non-fiction.
Wright was up against Fiona McFarlane for The Night Guest, Kristina Olsson for Boy, Lost, Alexis Wright for The Swan Book, Hannah Kent for Burial Rites and Anna Krien for Night Games.
As event host Annabel Crabb told the audience last night, being a judge on the awards – and consequently reading 160 books to help determine the shortlist, meaning she’s “been to bed with many women over the last few months” – gave her the ultimate insight into the breadth of female writing available.
For Crabb, the experience allowed her to turn reading into an “actual obligation” that she could pursue guilt free.
“Increasingly in recent decades I’ve read for business rather than specifically for pleasure. A stack of porky, political memoirs, essays, biographies, forensic accounts of the rise of this person and the fall of that person, some written by me,” she said. “To take time out to read anything else would seem like a personal indulgence.”
Despite the huge commitment and the “rough stuff” she encountered in the pile of 160 books, Crabb said her Stella reading was a good experience. “When I sat down to read such a vast cross section of the books written by women over the last year, I realised how much good stuff I had missed out on from not doing that every year. So many stories, so many ideas, so many insights.
“I missed them predominantly because I read for work and I’m sure I’m not alone. Others might miss them for other reasons – because those books aren’t up the front of book shops, or they’re not reviewed enough in the paper.”
Many of us can relate to this. Even the most avid readers among us miss books by Australian women because we believe that if we do find the time we should be reading for work, rather than pleasure, or we simply don’t encounter such books in the first place.
The Stella Prize was first awarded in 2013 to better recognise and celebrate the contribution of Australian women writers’ to literature. It came in direct response to the underrepresentation of women in literary prizes, with just 10 women taking home the Miles Franklin Literary Award during its 54-year history up until 2011, when plans for the Stella were first drawn up.
While the Miles Franklin award featured an all-female shortlist for the first time ever in 2013, the Stella organisers claim the trend of women being largely underrepresented in major literary awards continues.
Wright’s book tells the story of the thousands of women who traveled to the goldfields to participate as miners, entertainers, storekeepers and ‘rabble-rousers’. It described the other side of the Eureka Stockade, asking why half the participants of this ‘founding legend’ simply disappeared from history.
On being named the award winner last night Wright, a historian, university lecturer and broadcaster, donated 10% of the prize money to The Indigenous Literary Foundation.
If you’re not already, get reading some books by women. No matter what your taste, there’s enough scope on the Stella shortlist to get you started.