Stella prize 2021: finalists 'span the gamut' of human enterprise and experience

Kelly Burke
·3 min read

A slew of debut works feature among the finalists in the 2021 Stella prize.

The longlist for the annual literary award for Australian female and non-binary writers was announced on Thursday evening.

Among the contenders are Laura Jean McKay, who collected Australia’s richest literary prize, the Victorian prize for literature, earlier this year for her debut novel The Animals in that Country, and journalist Louise Milligan, for her nonfiction work, Witness, which examined the justice system’s treatment of child abuse and sexual assault victims.

Along with McKay, three other finalists are first-time authors of full-length works of fiction: Cath Moore has been nominated for her young adult novel Metal Fish, Falling Snow; Jessie Tu for A Lonely Girl Is a Dangerous Thing; and Nardi Simpson – one half of the vocalist duo the Stiff Gins – for her novel, Song of the Crocodile. Rebecca Giggs has been nominated for her first nonfiction work Fathoms: the World in the Whale, and Ellena Savage is longlisted for her debut full-length collection of essays Blueberries.

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Short fiction, a collection of essays, and a novel translated from Indonesian to English (Intan Paramaditha’s The Wandering) are among the longlist nominations.

Chair of the judging panel, writer and editor Zoya Patel (No Country Woman, 2018), said the finalist lineup spanned the gamut of human enterprise and experience.

“The longlist demonstrates the breadth of expression present in Australian literature, and the importance of raising the profile of women and non-binary voices in celebrating this expansive talent,” she said.

This is the second year the prize has been open to trans women and non-binary writers, as well as cis women, and the first year a writer who identifies as non-binary, S L Lim (Revenge: Murder in Three Parts), has made it on to the longlist.

The broadened criteria for eligibility follows recent moves to make gender-specific literary prizes more inclusive. The shift followed the first-time longlisting of a non-binary trans author, Akwaeke Emezi, for the Women’s Prize in the UK in 2019. The Women’s Prize later restricted its conditions of entry to require writers to be “legally defined as a woman or of the female sex”, including providing proof through a birth certificate or a gender recognition certificate if necessary.

By contrast, Stella, an organisation established in 2012 to recognise and celebrate Australian female writers’ contribution to literature, states that entrants are not required to provide any statement of gender beyond self identification, and that it “interpret[s] entry to the prize as confirmation of that identification”.

The winner of the 2021 Stella prize will be announced on 22 April.

The full 2021 Stella prize longlist

  • Fathoms: the World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs (Scribe Publications)

  • Revenge: Murder in Three Parts by S L Lim (Transit Lounge)

  • The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay (Scribe Publications)

  • Witness by Louise Milligan (Hachette Australia)

  • Metal Fish, Falling Snow by Cath Moore (Text Publishing)

  • The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha (Penguin Random House)

  • Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe (University of Queensland Press)

  • Blueberries by Ellena Savage (Text Publishing)

  • Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson (Hachette Australia)

  • Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan (Brio Books)

  • A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu (Allen & Unwin)

  • The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (Penguin Random House)