A group of Australian women writers and publishers are seeking a sponsor for a proposed literary prize for fiction by Australian women writers. Sophie Cunningham, Kirsten Tranter, Louise Swinn, Monica Dux, Jenny Niven, Aviva Tuffield from Scribe Publishing, Rebecca Starford, Jo Case and Chris Gordon from Readings have formed a steering committee to establish the award – equivalent to the UK’s Orange Prize – which has a working title A Prize of One’s Own.

In an interview in the Guardian, novelist and publisher Sophie Cunningham said the committee was talking to sponsors. “What we want to achieve is a prize that brings more readers to novels by women, and respects and rewards the work of women writers,” she said. “Women continue to be marginalised in our culture. Their words are deemed less interesting, less knowledgeable, less well formed, less worldly, and less worthy.” Not only have the Miles Franklin Award shortlists been exclusively male twice in the last three years, several state premier’s literary award shortlists also excluded women. What’s more, although in overall terms publishing is dominated by women, the highest levels of the industry continue to be mostly male. The committee is hoping the inaugural women’s prize will be held in 2012 or 2013.

The Wheeler Centre’s next Talking Point is ‘Banging on the Ceiling’, Thursday May 12 at 6:15pm.

13 comments so far:

what about the kibble awards? they have an annual prize for debut women and established women writers?

05 May at 09:53AM

Where's the big article about this in The Age etc? Why the Guardian? Weird.

05 May at 10:09AM

If memory serves, the Kibble is supposed to go to 'life writing' - a condition open to some interpretive latitude - but that highlights something of the problem with what markers we use in valuing literary talent in this country.

05 May at 11:30AM

A women's only prize is great, just as there should be men's only prizes, which for some reason we don't have any of??? Why?

05 May at 01:10PM

Good point, Liz. I don't mean this facetiously, but perhaps the cause of women's writing could cut through even further if there was also a prize devoted entirely to fiction by men.

05 May at 01:31PM

Liz, the rest of the world is the men's only prize. That's the POINT. When the judges of the Miles announced the all-male shortlist in 2009, they said they did not notice it was all male. Truly. Now, I ask you, if the shortlist had been all female, do you think they would have noticed? OF COURSE. Even now in 2011 the norm is still male.

And re the Kibble and Dobbie Awards, the terms are for life writing which encompasses fiction and many kinds of non-fiction. If anything, it's broader than any other prize. And I agree with the second comment re coverage. Perhaps that is half the problem? Getting attention of the Australian media?

05 May at 01:31PM

there's the Barbara Jeffries, quite a tasty sum too. Also how many of the commissioning editors in publishing are women and how many men?

05 May at 02:18PM

RE: The 2nd comment and Exasperated's comment

The Age did cover the news on 23rd April, a week and a half before the Guardian article. The Age article attracted 23 comments.


05 May at 02:47PM

Great idea. It will go very nicely with the Davitt Awards that have been running for 10 years and are for Australian Female Crime Writers.

05 May at 05:19PM

The Barbara Jefferis is a great prize. Can anyone tell me who was on the shortlist? Who won? That's why it either needs to be added to by another sponsor to make it newsworthy, or do something radical like award the BJ and another all female prize on the same day to really create some media attention. Because the writing's there, it's only the promotion/respect that's lacking.

05 May at 10:55PM

Kushnanda, yes, if you believe women's only writing is a 'cause' worth considering, which I don't, because I don't believe in giving any one group special treatment for its own sake.
If and when a shortlist of NINE happen to be men, and if this is a common phenomena, perhaps we should be asking why? If 30% of women choose to put their careers on the backburner for a decade to have children, wouldn't statistically they be represented less in top executive positions and academic or literary accomplishments? Has anyone thought that maybe the best 9 works in that competition were actually men? You need to think outside your 'sexism!' box and see difference between groups. A male only and female only prize is a good idea if only to highlight the differences between male and female perspectives and writing styles, and difference should be celebrated.

10 May at 09:11AM

Perhaps a good thing would be to rewrite some of the classics and making the hero female instead of male and vice reversa. Pollyanna could be Jeremiah. Barbara Cartland's should be the first to be changed. happen to love men who open doors, pay for drinks, change washers, write novels, drive long distance lorries, sheer the sheep. I also love having a woman head of government. Some people do not want to be a feminist - they can't be arsed.

15 October at 11:50AM

Are the books read anonymously, by that I mean do the reviewers know the name and therefore the sex of the author ?
If they were/are read anonymously then those picked are presumably the best of the bunch regardless of gender ?

10 June at 01:05AM

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