Prizes – lauded, maligned, heralded, disparaged. Many have called them elitist and chastised them for upholding the status quo. Many more have derided them as middlebrow harbingers of impending artistic doom. For authors and publishers though, the lure of prize attention persists.
The Stella Prize is no different, except of course, for its founding premise – to redress the gender imbalance of literary prize culture. And for those of us who love new Australian non-fiction, the 2017 Stella longlist delivers a bumper crop. Amidst the 12 titles longlisted (8 of which are non-fiction), are two of my favourite reads of 2016.
The Hate Race – Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette) – The kind of incessant, casual racism that others would glibly label ‘micro-aggressions’ is personified in Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir as an insidious, monstrous element of our cultural psyche. The Hate Race is, for the most part, a relatable and blush-inducing memoir of suburban childhood. With adeptly paced and stridently crafted lyricism though, Beneba Clarke brings racism to the fore, forcing readers to confront the truth of our nation’s discriminatory foundations and prevailing prejudices.
Wasted – Elspeth Muir (Text Publishing) – Writing about grief without wallowing in its depths is a feat few writers accomplish. Yet Elspeth Muir manages, with astonishing prosaic skill and aching self-reflection, to intertwine the story of her brother’s early death with a broad and insightful observation of Australia’s drinking culture. Wasted is an un-indulgent and measured examination of the dangers of alcohol that averts blame in favour of insight and reflection.
These two books, and no doubt others on the longlist, are exemplars of the potential of new Australian non-fiction. Particularly, non-fiction writing from diverse voices. They are inherently Australian stories that confront and transcend popular nationalist narratives. These are the kinds of works that we hope literary prizes continue to foster. The Obiter Publishing team commends The Stella Prize for recognising the talents of these formidable Australian writers and congratulates all of the longlisted authors and their publishers.