In the 2008 book The Economy of Prestige, Professor James F. English wrote that newly established literary awards are able to solidify their necessity through ‘reference to some failing or lack in its more esteemed predecessor’. Nowhere is this assertion more noticeable than Australia’s female literary award The Stella Prize.
Awarded for the first time in 2013, The Stella Prize emerged as a direct response to under representation of female writers among literary award winners; in particular the Miles Franklin Award – regarded as one of Australia’s most prestigious literary awards.
The Stella Prize’s objective is to annually celebrate the best book to emerge from either fiction or nonfiction, by an Australian woman that year, and through this create a greater public interest in books written by women.
It is comparable to other prizes such as Britain’s Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction – which also attempts to counter perceived flaws in longstanding judging practices.
However, what makes James F English’s statement particularly applicable to The Stella Prize is the importance of its name and the overt point it makes.
By naming the prize after the founder of The Miles Franklin Award, Stella ‘Miles’ Franklin, The Stella Prize is making a clever point about the need for a literary award specifically for women.
The name is simultaneously associating the award with a deeply respected female author as well as a jab at The Miles Franklin Award. It’s a powerful public reminder that Miles Franklin was a woman who needed to go by a pen-name for her work to be taken seriously, and it implies that The Miles Franklin Award has not fulfilled her vision.
According to one of the founders, Sophie Cunningham, The Stella Prize’s creation is necessary because,
The Stella Prize highlights subjectivity and flaws, and makes us question literary awards as a means of determining prestige. Yet, by creating a new award in the hope of bolstering the presence of female writers, The Stella Prize demonstrates that literary awards remain a prominent feature in book culture and do have an effect on the success of a book.