Writing prize marks new chapter for women

When twice within the space of three years no woman was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia's premier prize for fiction, a group of women in the books industry decided enough was enough: they would establish their own prize for writing — by women.

The first Stella Prize — named after Miles Franklin's first name — will be presented in April. The prize "for the best work of literature published in 2012 by an Australian woman" will consider novels and non-fiction and be worth $50,000 to the winner. Entries close on November 15.

Stella committee chair Aviva Tuffield, associate publisher at Scribe, said the inclusion of fiction and non-fiction was to differentiate the prize from the international prize for women's fiction formerly known as the Orange. "It's important not to be bound by only fiction or only non-fiction."

Tuffield said the bulk of the prize's initial funding had come from education philanthropist Ellen Koshland, with restaurateurs Patricia O'Donnell and Michelle Garnaut the other major donors. "We have money for the first year but hope something real will be much more attractive to sponsors."

The judging panel will be chaired by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Kerryn Goldsworthy and include novelist Kate Grenville and actor Claudia Karvan. ABC broadcaster Rafael Epstein will also be a judge. "There was always going to be men on the panel — but not a majority — because we want men to read women's books," Tuffield said.

She said the prize was feminist by nature in promoting women and equality. "It's very much about celebrating Australian women's literature and supporting books and writers in an industry that is struggling."

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