New literary award to promote women writers in Australia
Summary of story from The Guardian, May 4, 2011
A new literary award, equivalent to the British Orange prize, is being planned in Australia by a group of women writers and publishers to combat the ‘systemic exclusion’ of women writers from the country’s major literary awards.
The move has been prompted by the exclusion, for the second time in three years, of a single female author in the shortlist for the country’s top literary prize.
The Miles Franklin award has been won by a woman just 13 times out of fifty since its inception in 1957. Ironically, the award was initially established courtesy of a bequest from the eponymous feminist and novelist Miles Franklin.
The new prize has a working title of ‘A Prize of One’s Own’ and is being developed by a steering committee, including novelist and publisher Sophie Cunningham, former Miles Franklin judge and critic Kerryn Goldsworthy and Miles Franklin-longlisted novelist Kirsten Tranter and publisher Louise Swinn.
The group will also lobby for women in publishing, set up mentorship schemes, and collect more rigorous research on women in publishing.
Sophie Cunningham said “What we are concerned with is the systemic exclusion of women writers over several decades – a situation that seems to be getting worse, not better.
“We hope we can have the prize up by 2012, but it may be 2013. We’re talking to sponsors. At this stage it’s for just the one, fiction, prize,” she said.
“What we want to achieve is a prize that brings more readers to novels by women, and respects and rewards the work of women writers.”
Pointing out that several of Australia’s major literary awards also included no women writers on their shortlists last year, Cunningham also highlighted statistics showing that although Australian publishing is a predominantly female industry (62%), most senior positions are held by men, with 68% of men who work in the industry earning more than A$100,000, as opposed to 32% of the women.
She said: “I would argue that sexism is so ingrained in the arts industry as it stands that it is, unfortunately, necessary to find ways to draw the public’s attention to the work of women writers.
“I’d like to quote [poet and novelist] Alison Croggon on the subject – she expresses this better than me. ‘A world loaded in favour of one sex accounts for the pyramidal structure of gender. At the wide bottom of the writing world – the world of amateur writers on the internet, for instance – women, if anything, dominate.’
‘The closer you get to the top, the fewer women there are. And at the very top, as in this year’s Miles Franklin, the presence of women is an exception. What to do about it? One thing is certain: passively assuming women are equal and will gradually work their way to equal status doesn’t work. We need some different tools.’ This notion of needing different tools is behind our desire to set up the award.”