Poetry is already dominating Australia’s Stella prize in its first year of being eligible, with three collections among the six shortlisted books up for the $50,000 literary award for women and non-binary writers.
On a shortlist whittled down from 220 entries, Noongar and Yawuru poet Elfie Shiosaki has made it for her first collection Homecoming, which explores colonialization and assimilation across four generations of women in her family. Philippines-born poet Eunice Andrada is nominated for TAKE CARE, a collection that examines sexual violence and colonial conquest. And Evelyn Araluen, a descendant of the Bundjalung nation, is listed for her debut collection of her, Dropbear; in his review for the Guardian, critic Declan Fry – also a judge on this year’s Stella prize – wrote that it “repurposes Biblical themes, Australian kitsch and settler-colonial tropes to astonishing effect.”
“It was unbelievable. It is the first year poetry has been eligible and we didn’t expect so many entries. We found ourselves surprised and delighted by how strong they were – there was a freshness, a newness in the poetry we saw,” said author and Stella judge Sisonke Msimang.
“I think we’re seeing a coming of age of a really diverse array of voices in Australian literature, and you see that very clearly in poetry right now. This is poetry’s moment, and it just affirms why the Stella has added it.”
Thirty-five of the 220 books submitted for the prize in 2022 were poetry collections.
Also up for the award are Anwen Crawford’s No Document, a formally experimental book-length essay about grief and art; and Stone Fruit by Lee Lai, a debut graphic novel that follows two queer women in the aftermath of their break up.
Just one novel is up for the prize this year: Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down, which follows a young girl, Maggie, through child abuse, foster homes and institutionalization, and into late-middle age.
Melissa Lucashenko, chair of the judging panel and former winner of the prize, said that this year’s shortlist is “big on emerging voices writing in unconventional ways – from regions, positions, and literary forms that transcend the mainstream.
“These authors are writing back, insisting that ‘other’ lives – First Nations lives, poor women’s lives, queer lives, and Filipina lives – matter on the page just as they do in everyday affairs,” she said.
She said the shortlisted authors share two things: “First, all six shortlistees undertake the essential work of any artist: paying attention to what is happening around them, and interrogating that experience. Second, the authors have produced powerfully beautiful literature, sacrificing no art in their unflinching focus on justice, inclusion, and truth-telling.”
Extending eligibility to poetry is not the only change to the Stella prize in recent years, with the award also opening to trans women and non-binary writers in 2020. Stone Fruit author Lai is just the second non-binary writer to have been nominated for the Stella, making the shortlist a year after the first, SL Lim.
Joining Lucashenko on the judging panel this year are Fry, authors Cate Kennedy and Sisonke Msimang, and essayist and screenwriter Oliver Reeson.
Each of the shortlisted authors received $4,000. The winner will be announced on 28 April.
The 2022 Stella prize shortlist
TAKE CARE by Eunice Andrada (Giramondo Publishing)
Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen (University of Queensland Press)
No Document by Anwen Crawford (Giramondo Publishing)
Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down (Text Publishing)
Stone Fruit by Lee Lai (Fantagraphics)
Homecoming by Elfie Shiosaki (Magabala Books)