First time novelist Emily Bitto has won the Stella Prize for her novel The Strays. It’s the first time that a debut novelist has won the prize, which was started in 2013 as an antidote to male dominated literary awards.
The Stella Prize, which celebrates literature by women, has become a major feature in Australian literature, with a $50, 000 cash prize and a significant boost in the profiles and sales of its winners.
Kerryn Goldsworthy, the chair of the Stella Prize judging panel, said of Bitto’s book,
“Emily Bitto’s debut novel The Strays is about families, art, isolation, class, childhood, friendship, and the power of the past. It’s both moving and sophisticated; both well-researched and original; both intellectually engaging and emotionally gripping… In its subject matter, its characters, and its sombre mood, this novel is reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw, or A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, and in this company it can hold its head high. The Strays is like a gemstone: polished and multifaceted, reflecting illuminations back to the reader and holding rich colour in its depths.”
For Bitto, winning the Stella Prize, particularly as a debut novelist, is an incredible honour, and one that she doesn’t take lightly.
“It is an astounding, life-changing honour to be selected as the third recipient of the Stella Prize for my debut novel, The Strays. Even since being included on the Stella shortlist, I have noticed a clear difference in the kind of attention that my work has received. The Stella Prize is an award I feel very passionate about, and I am particularly honoured to have won a prize that has grown from a motive so dear to my own heart: the desire to redress gender inequality in the literary world. And to be recognised alongside such an astonishingly talented long- and shortlist, including writers I revere as a reader, is the greatest honour,” she says.
“As a debut novelist, I cannot even begin to quantify the benefits this award will bring. I am incredibly grateful to the Stella board, the judging panel, and the generous donors who have contributed the prize money. In its three years of existence, the Stella Prize has had a huge impact on the Australian literary landscape and has initiated a vital dialogue about gender within the public domain. As a female writer, I have benefited from this award before even finding myself on the longlist, and I am so grateful for its existence.”
This year’s Stella Prize had more than 150 entries. The short list is below.
Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette)
The Strays by Emily Bitto (Affirm Press)
The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally (Black Inc)
The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna (Allen & Unwin)
The Golden Age by Joan London (Random House)
Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven (UQP)