A Prize of One’s Own

A tip of the hat to @tansyrr on Twitter for linking to this article from The Guardian about a proposed new Australian literary prize:

A group of Australian women writers and publishers are working to set up an equivalent of the Orange prize in their country, to combat what they describe as “the systemic exclusion of women writers over several decades” from the country’s major literary awards.

For the second time in three years, not a single female author made the shortlist for the country’s top books prize, the Miles Franklin, last month. The award – established, incidentally, through a bequest from the feminist and novelist Miles Franklin – has been won by a woman just 13 out of 50 times since it was set up in 1957, and only twice in the last decade. It is, said literary blogger Angela Meyer, on the announcement of the 2009 women-free shortlist, a “sausage-fest”.

Veteran ozblogger Pavlov’s Cat (aka former Miles Franklin Award judge and critic Kerryn Goldsworthy) is involved in the steering committee alongside novelist and publisher Sophie Cunningham, Miles Franklin-longlisted novelist Kirsten Tranter, publisher Louise Swinn, essayist and author Monica Dux, Melbourne Writers festival programme manager Jenny Niven, publisher Aviva Tuffield, Kill Your Darlings editors Rebecca Starford and Jo Case and readings events coordinator Chris Gordon.

Cunningham said that while “we would prefer it if this award didn’t have to exist – if writing by women was rewarded and valued on its own terms, with equal merit to the way that work written by men is,” this was not, unfortunately, the case. “Women continue to be marginalised in our culture. Their words are deemed less interesting, less knowledgeable, less well formed, less worldly, and less worthy.”

There’s also an interview with Sophie Cunningham about the proposed new prize at Meanjin’s Spike blog.

By the way, a search on “australia new prize women writers” brings up only the Guardian and Meanjin articles on the first page in Google Web before going on to unrelated sites, nothing at all in Google News. When I searched specifically on the working title (A Prize Of One’s Own) I also found a Wheeler Centre article discussing the Guardian article, which led me to an article in The Age from April 23 which discusses the all-male-author shortlist (again) for the Miles Franklin Award and that Sophie Cunningham and others are investigating the establishment of a new award for women, and which I remembered Kerryn Goldsworthy discussing on her literary blog post about this year’s Miles Frankin shortlist, about how there appears to be, in comments to articles about the overlooking of women’s writing, this tactic at play whereby women critics of the system as it stands are worn down by demands that they explain the basics of Feminism 101 over and over again in “online arguments with men who think they already know everything” while suffering through  “magisterial pronouncements of people who haven’t done the reading” :

The reason one has to explain the same simple points over and over again is that, in general, blokes simply do not listen when women speak, and they do not read what women write. This is circular argument: they will say Oh but that’s because what women say isn’t good or interesting, and then you say Well that’s because you’re applying masculine values universally, and they say They’re not masculine values, they’re universal values, like for example everyone agrees on what literary merit is, and you say Well no we don’t, women value some things differently, and they say Oh but what women say isn’t good or interesting.


I speak from the experience of (a) six years of blogging, in which activity I include reading and commenting on other blogs, (b) 20 years of university teaching and (c) 50+ years of arguing with my father.

I hear you, Kerryn. It doesn’t appear that the Australian media is finding what women are saying about this prize either good or interesting, although that comes as hardly any surprise. Joanna Russ wrote a book about it all, didn’t she?

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism, media

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