Poetry has already dominated Australia’s Stella Prize in its first year of eligibility, with three collections of the six shortlisted books for the $50,000 Literary Prize for Women and Non-Binary Writers.
Shortlisted from 220 entries, Noongar and Yawuru poet Elfie Shiosaki made it for her first collection Homecoming, which explores the colonization and assimilation of four generations of women in her family. Filipino-born poet Eunice Andrada has been nominated for TAKE CARE, a collection examining sexual violence and colonial conquest. And Evelyn Araluen, a descendant of the Bundjalung nation, is listed for her debut collection, Dropbear; in his review for the Guardian, critic Declan Fry † also a judge of this year’s Stella prize † wrote that it “repurposed biblical themes, Australian kitsch and settler-colonial tropes to astonishing effect”.
“It was unbelievable. It’s the first year that poetry has been eligible and we didn’t expect so many submissions. We were surprised and delighted at how strong they were – there was a freshness, a novelty in the poetry that we saw,” said author and Stella judge Sisonke Msimang.
“I think we’re seeing a very diverse set of voices mature in Australian literature, and you can see that very clearly in poetry now. This is the moment of poetry, and it just confirms why de Stella added it.”
Thirty-five of the 220 books submitted for the prize in 2022 were collections of poetry.
Also nominated for the award are Anwen Crawford’s No Document, a formal experimental book-like essay on grief and art; and Stone Fruit by Lee Lai, a graphic debut novel that follows two queer women in the aftermath of their breakup.
Only one novel could win this year: Jennifer Down’s Bodies of Light, which follows a young girl, Maggie, through child abuse, foster care, and institutions into late middle age.
Melissa Lucashenko, jury chair and former award winner, said this year’s shortlist is “big in emerging voices who write in unconventional ways – from regions, positions and literary forms that transcend the mainstream.
“These authors are writing back and insisting that ‘other’ lives — First Nations lives, poor women’s lives, queer lives, and Filipino lives — matter on the page, as they do in everyday affairs,” she said.
She said the shortlisted authors share two things: “First, all six shortlists undertake the essential work of each artist: paying attention to what is going on around them and questioning that experience. Second, the authors have produced powerfully beautiful literature, sacrificing no art in their unwavering focus on justice, inclusion and telling the truth.”
Expanding the eligibility into poetry isn’t the only change to the Stella award in recent years, with the award also open to trans women and non-binary writers in 2020. Steenfruit author Lai is only the second non-binary writer to be nominated. for the Stella, which is shortlisted a year after the first, SL Lim.
Fry, writers Cate Kennedy and Sisonke Msimang, and essayist and screenwriter Oliver Reeson are joining Lucashenko’s jury this year.
Each of the nominated authors received $4,000. The winner will be announced on April 28.
The shortlist of the Stella Prize of 2022
TAKE CARE by Eunice Andrada (Giramondo Publishing)
Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen (University of Queensland Press)
No document by Anwen Crawford (Giramondo Publishing)
Lightbodies by Jennifer Down (Text Publishing)
Stone Fruit by Lee Lai (Fantagraphics)
Homecoming by Elfie Shiosaki (Magabala Books)