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New author scoops $50,000 Stella Prize

Books & Poetry

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Debut novelist Emily Bitto has won the 2015 Stella Prize for a book the judges described as “intellectually engaging and emotionally gripping”.

The Strays, published by Affirm Press, is set in 1930s conservative Australia and revolves around Lily, a young girl who becomes infatuated with the wild family of avant-garde painter Evan Trentham.

The Strays is about families, art, isolation, class, childhood, friendship, and the power of the past,” says Stella Prize judging panel chair Kerryn Goldsworthy.

“In its subject matter, its characters and its sombre mood, this novel is reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw or AS Byatt’s The Children’s Book, and in this company it can hold its head high.”

The Stella Prize is open to works of fiction and non-fiction by Australian women and was introduced two years ago to redress a perceived gender imbalance in other major literary prizes such as the Miles Franklin.

The winner receives $50,000, while $2000 goes to the authors of each of this year’s shortlisted books: Foreign Soil, by Maxine Beneba Clarke; The Invisible History of the Human Race, Christine Kenneally; The Eye of the Sheep, Sofie Laguna; The Golden Age, Joan London, and Heat and Light, Ellen van Neerven.

Melbourne-based Bitto said in a statement that she believes the Stella Prize has had a huge impact on the Australian literary landscape, initiating “a vital dialogue about gender within the public domain”.

“The Stella Prize is an award I feel very passionate about, and I am particularly honoured to have won a prize that has grown from a motive so dear to my own heart: the desire to redress gender inequality in the literary world.

“And to be recognised alongside such an astonishingly talented long- and shortlist, including writers I revere as a reader, is the greatest honour.”

Previous winners of the prize have been Carrie Tiffany, for Mateship with Birds, and Clare Wright, for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.

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