a pair of ragged claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

In the six years since the “sausage­fest” brouhaha over the all-male short­list for the 2009 Miles Franklin Lit­er­ary Award, 65 writ­ers have been longlisted for the na­tion’s most im­por­tant book prize. The gen­der break­down of the 2010-15 longlists is 36 women and 29 men. That slight mar­gin car­ried to the short­lists, with 14 women and 11 men in fi­nal con­tention be­tween 2010 and last year. The trend will con­tinue when this year’s short­list is an­nounced on Mon­day, given the longlist con­tains eight nov­els by women and two by men. If one of the men — Craig Sher­borne or Omar Musa — can defy the odds to go all the way, he will be the first male Miles Franklin win­ner since Kim Scott for That Dead­man Dance in 2011.

A 55-50 per cent gen­der split on a lit­er­ary prize should be un­re­mark­able — but in the long his­tory of the Miles Franklin it has been un­usual, with male writ­ers dom­i­nat­ing since Pa­trick White won the in­au­gu­ral award for Voss in 1957. In re­cent years that his­tor­i­cal im­bal­ance has started to cor­rect. I say started be­cause in the life of the award there have been 12 in­di­vid­ual fe­male win­ners and 27 male. So the only way bal­ance could be achieved is if women were to mo­nop­o­lise pro­ceed­ings in com­ing years.

This is where I find the re­cent statis­tics in­ter­est­ing. The “sausage­fest” made head­lines, but the next year, 2010, the longlist com­prised nine men and three women, the short­list four men and two women and the win­ner was Peter Tem­ple for Truth. In 2011, the longlist had six men and three women, the short­list three men and no women, and the win­ner was Scott. The judg­ing pan­els in 2009 to 2011, which pro­duced two all-male short­lists, con­sisted of three women and two men (some of the judges changed in this time, but that ra­tio did not).

It was at this time, 2011, that dis­cus­sions started about set­ting up a ri­val prize for Aus­tralian women writ­ers. There was a groundswell of sup­port and the Stella Prize (can­nily named for Stella Miles Franklin) made its de­but in 2013. In just three years it has es­tab­lished it­self on the lit­er­ary scene. And it is here, in what I’ll call the post-Stella pe­riod, that the Miles Franklin starts to look dif­fer­ent.

In 2012, with the Stella gath­er­ing steam, the Miles longlist and short­list were more or less bal­anced and the win­ner in a split de­ci­sion was Anna Fun­der for All That I Am. This was the fi­nal year in which women out­num­bered men on the judg­ing panel. In 2013, when the Stella awarded its first prize to Car­rie Tif­fany for Mate­ship With

Birds, the Miles longlist had eight women and two men and the short­list was ... well, I daren’t guess at the fe­male equiv­a­lent of sausage­fest, but there were five women and no men. Last year, the longlist had seven women and four men and this year it has eight women and two men. The 2013-15 judg­ing pan­els have each been com­posed of three men and two women.

So since the Stella came into be­ing, the Miles longlist has strongly favoured women over men. Is it pos­si­ble the Stella, and the gen­eral gen­der de­bate, has been on the judges’ minds? Or that in the past three years our male nov­el­ists sim­ply have not pro­duced the goods? Or the more men on a judg­ing panel the more women in con­tention? Any­thing is pos­si­ble, they say. The 10 writ­ers vy­ing for Mon­day’s short­list are: Sher­borne ( Tree Palace), Musa ( Here Come the Dogs), El­iz­a­beth Har­rower ( In

Cer­tain Cir­cles), Sonya Hart­nett ( Golden Boys),

Sofie La­guna ( The Eye of the Sheep), Joan Lon­don ( The Golden Age), Suzanne McCourt ( The Lost Child), Favel Par­rett ( When the Night Comes), Christine Piper ( Af­ter Dark­ness) and Inga Simp­son ( Nest). Good luck to all.

Quote of the week: “The in­ter­net doesn’t just of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for misog­y­nis­tic abuse, you know. Pe­nis en­larg­ers can also be bought dis­creetly.’’ JK Rowl­ing, on Twit­ter, KOs a troll who calls her “JK bitchface” and a “La­bor c..t” in re­sponse to her tweets on the Bri­tish elec­tions.

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