Apr 30, 2014

Eureka! Literary ladies celebrate a Stella year for book lovers

Historian Clare Wright has won the Stella prize for literature for her book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, and a literary who's who were out in force at last night's awards ceremony.

Margot Saville — <em>Crikey</em> Sydney reporter

Margot Saville

Crikey Sydney reporter

If you consider reading books to be a dream job, spare a thought for the five judges of the Stella book prize. Each of those judges had to read 160 books in six months -- how did they survive? And are they now in some sort of print detox facility, throwing books on a pyre and gleefully lighting a match?

At last night’s ceremony to announce the winner, the ABC’s Annabel Crabb outed herself as being in a special category of judges. Under the Stella rules, the judging panel must comprise four people who are experts in the field of writing and a fifth, high-profile person not commonly known as a expert. "Well, I’m here to represent the voice of inexpert Australia," she said, adding that as the deadline for her own book, The Wife Drought, was this week, last night was the first time she had actually left the house -- or worn shoes -- in some time. "In the last six months I have slept with more than 160 women," she told a packed crowd. "The stack of books beside my bed is a tottering tribute to my promiscuity." Consuming all these books gave her the same feeling as reading the best of the best books and the worst of the worst books, which is, "if I write a book, it could turn out like this one," she said. The prize, she said, was "not to create quality but to remind us where we might find it". It was a great night, partly because of the fact that the shortlisted authors already knew who had won, taking the adrenalin out of the room. It also meant that no one had to practise her "honour to be nominated" smile and spend the night weeping in the loo. In fact, it was one of the most positive literary events I’ve ever attended -- the factionalism and politics of which usually resemble a night at the United Nations with Kevin Rudd. The winner of the $50,000 prize was historian and author Clare Wright for her book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, about the women of the Eureka stockade. The judging panel found that it combined "true scholarship with a warmly engaging narrative voice".

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