At an event held last night ats Art Centre Melbourne, the $50,000 Stella Prize was announced. First time author Vicki Laveau-Harvie snapped up the title, for her dark, yet moving, memoir The Erratics. It is the first time a memoir has won the prize and only the second time it has been awarded to a debut author.
In an fascinating twist, The Erratics was actually out of print when it first came to the attention of the Stella judging panel, which this year consisted of writer, editor, publisher and reviewer Louise Swinn; former bookseller and LGBTIQ Health Promotion Officer Amelia Lush; award-winning writer Michelle de Kretser; journalist, radio broadcaster and writer Daniel Browning; and award-winning investigative journalist Kate McClymont.
Originally picked up by Finch Publishing, Laveau-Harvie’s memoir had only been in print for six months when the house closed. But when the work found its way onto the Stella longlist, Laveau-Harvie’s phone started ringing and The Erratics is now safe with Fourth Estate, an imprint of publishing giant Harper Collins.
The Erratics tells the tale of when Laveau-Harvie, now in her seventies, returned home to Canada, to care for her ageing parents. Of the darkly funny memoir, judging chair Swinn had this to say:
“Set against the bitter cold of a Canadian winter, […] The Erratics mines the psychological damage wrought on a nuclear family by a monstrous personality. Despite the dark subject matter, this book has a smile at its core, and Laveau-Harvie shows constant wit when depicting some harrowing times. The narrator somehow manages to see all viewpoints, and we are rewarded with an evocative and expansive view of a family that has more than its fair share of dysfunction. The writing throughout is of a consistently high standard and we were constantly delighted by this surprise of a book.”
Laveau-Harvie describes the win as a “gift of freedom”, and plans to use the money to travel:
“I’m going to use this gift to travel to places no one has ever heard of—places like Neche, North Dakota, in the US—to find the traces of a hidden part of my heritage. I hope to find the threads of the next story I will tell, and that the themes of that story will be universal ones. This prize gives me the means to do that. I am grateful to all those who make the Stella Prize possible: for the hard work, belief, and dedication that make it a beacon and a force for good.”
The Erratics beat out Little Gods by Jenny Ackland, The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo, Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau, Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko, and Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin to the prize. All shortlisted authors received $3,000 in prize money.
The Stella Prize is named for My Beautiful Career author Stella Maria Sarah ‘Miles’ Franklin, and has become a landmark prize in Australia publishing. Now in its seventh year, the award is open to both fiction and non-fiction works written by women across Australia, published during the previous year. For more information and to see the full shortlisted works, please see the Stella Prize website.