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Sausage-fest (token Miles Franklin shortlist post)

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 wanting

 

 

 

 

The Miles Franklin Literary Award 2009 shortlist. So they’re all dudes. But hey, thankfully the judges didn’t attempt to be politically correct and throw in a chick ‘for the sake of fairness’. I have so far only read one of the shortlisted titles (and have another in my reading pile – thanks Penguin!). I am going for The Slap, as it completely compelled me and got me all riled up and excited (and the female characters I found exquisitely empathetic and well-written). I’ve given copies to two friends now and feedback gathered last night was: loving it. You can revisit my interview with Tsiolkas here.

What it does bring me back to, all this, is how many Australian books by male authors do we read, as opposed to books by female authors? And do male readers steer clear of female authors more than female readers might? Have you seen any dudes on the train reading Toni Jordan’s Addition (which was longlisted); or Helen Garner’s The Spare Room (which wasn’t)? Do many general book buyers even know who Gail Jones is? Have you read more of Alex Miller’s backlist than Kate Grenville’s? The general consensus so far in these discussions I’ve been having is that, yes, people read more male authors, but it’s not deliberate. Are more published? Better marketed? We know women write as well as (and in many cases better and bolder) than many men – but are the themes more difficult to relate to in general – eg. more confronting? Anyway, let’s get talking! Also – who’s going to win, and who do you want to win?

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  • 1
    troym7
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I think we started this conversation during the long list, nothing I hadn’t read any of the females nominated.
    Is it a case of the Miles Franklin award guidelines more than the quality of Australian female writers (all those labels at once makes me feel uneasy…)?? The shortlisted books will have their own little place in insert name of large chain today, while the longlist with some stunning writing will be ignored. The SMH highlighted that if Winton wins he will equal Thea Astley’s four wins. While the Australian went the male angle…
    As I suggested to you on twitter Winton, Nowra, Flanagan or Bail don’t ‘need’ to win. They all hold fairly lofty places in Australian literature, all will continue to write, no matter the outcome. All of the novels here are outstanding, not good Australian novels, just good novels. I am bias towards Winton, ‘The Wanting’ is a poetic dream ride, Nowra’s is just plain interesting. I picked up ‘The Pages’ last week…so no comment there.
    I want ‘The Slap’ to win. It provoked me more than the rest.

  • 2
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    It’s true that most of them don’t ‘need’ it, but again, it shouldn’t go to someone just because they haven’t won it before. And it won’t. It will go to what the judges deem the best book. And most people I’ve been talking to were the most ‘provoked’ by The Slap, like you.

    On this male/female thing I should point out that it seems to be a literary/general fiction thing wheras in the realm of fantasy books, crime, YA and many other genres there is much more of a balance. Agree?

  • 3
    Peta
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    The absence of female writers shortlisted reflects the absence of female writers. I think it’s still a broader cultural issue that woman + writer is a contentious combination. This is unpopular to say in a post-feminist age, even though it’s illogical to pretend that historical issues are resolved in a generation. Writing requires certain psychological, material and emotional conditions and the performance of a feminine identity requires certain dispositions that conflict with those that constitute the writing life. Sometimes this conflict can make good writing material, but that in itself does not negate the fact these conditions exist.

    I’m not saying that “men have it easier”. That would be dumb. And it’s not the issue here. Aside from male vs female debate, which just reinforces the gender dichotomy, I think one needs to be able to look at how the categories of “woman” and “writer” are constituted in ways that maintain literary prizes as sites of gender exclusivity.

    I’m loving your blog, Angela.

  • 4
    troym7
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Perhaps I am far too cynical…Of course, it shouldn’t be awarded to someone just because they haven’t won or been nominated before. So why wasn’t Garner nominated? Winton could release a menu and it would be nominated (and win), whereas Flanagan’s may never, and doubt either of them are too fussed, they will just continue to weave with words…there are a lot of nods and winks in any kind of judging, particuarly with such a small area of interest, like Australian literature. One year I hope ‘they’ will find a long lost Patrick White novel to award the prize too…

  • 5
    zizz
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    had quick look over the ol’ bookcase, and me = bloke.
    overwhelmingly weighted towards male authors, but on closer inspection, there are a lot of female central characters…

    Not having done more than skim over the short listers, cant really comment, i did read a chapter of The Slap standing up at readings when it first hit the shelves, being a bit of a fan Tsiolkas as a fellow confused wog aussie. Cant say i was as taken by it as you are, but have planned to get my hands on a copy to prove myself wrong.

  • 6
    meanjin
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    While it might well be true that people tend to read more books by male authors than female authors that doesn’t excuse the judges of the award. They will have read all eligible books. I agree that there is no pointed in ham-fisted gender balance – but are the judges really suggesting that NONE of the following female writers deserved a shortlisting? Michelle DeKretser, Helen Garner, Amanda Lohrey or Kate Grenville. That’s just to mention the women who didn’t make the longlist. Those that did make the longlist but didn’t get to the next round are Toni Jordan, Claire Thomas and Sofie Laguna.

  • 7
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Peta – ‘Aside from male vs female debate, which just reinforces the gender dichotomy’ – this is why this post acts to point out the obvious, but doesn’t argue that it is deliberate. But it does say something about the wider Aus cultural and literary sphere – the gender dichotomy doesn’t need to be reinforced, it persists regardless.

    Meanjin here makes a great point with the authors she has mentioned – it just seems wrong that some of those amazing female authors weren’t shortlisted or even longlisted (Helen Garner!).

    And Troy – I like your cynicism. I know you are a huge Winton fan so it is funny to see you say he could write a menu and win.

    Zizz – I hope you enjoy your adventures with The Slap. Maybe it won’t be for everyone, fair enough, nothing ever is – but really I just found it brilliant, surprising, challenging, refreshing. Just great literature. Would love to hear what you think if you end up reading it.

  • 8
    Greg G
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I think Garner’s absence might have something to do with the fact that many people don’t consider “The Spare Room” a novel.

  • 9
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps that came into it, but if so, that sucks, because she has said it is a novel, her publisher released it as a novel, and she has won other awards for it as a novel.

  • 10
    troym7
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Zizz – my book shelf is pretty much even. I thought it would be male dominated…The Slap is worth the effort. It is most certainly not Looking for Alibrandi.
    ‘but are the judges really suggesting that NONE of the following female writers deserved a shortlisting’…well Michelle DeKretser, Helen Garner, Amanda Lohrey or Kate Grenville couldn’t even get longlisted!
    Yep, it is statement about the criteria and the judges. I think Peter Carey could write an advertisement jingle and get a shortlisting. I am a huge fan of both, but I still consider awards a little off putting and a reinforcement of what is already successful or known. ‘The Slap’ is saying something refreshing, powerful in a unique and ambitious fashion.
    Greg G – usually the judges come out and state issues like that, like in 1994 with Jolley, Meehan & Moorhouse or 1993 with ‘Shearers’ Motel’…

  • 11
    Greg G
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I know she’s said it’s a novel but she also said “The First Stone” was journalism.

    That said, I’m certain it’s far more worthy than “Breath” on style alone.

  • 12
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen any dudes on the train reading Toni Jordan’s Addition (which was longlisted); or Helen Garner’s The Spare Room (which wasn’t

    Don’t really see many dudes on trains reading any of the ones short listed either…

    From memory the judges weren’t all male, so there’s no real bias here. Jsut a quirk of the year I guess.

  • 13
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    ‘Judges for this year’s Award are Professor Robert Dixon, Professor Morag Fraser AM, Lesley McKay, Regina Sutton and Murray Waldren.’

    Nope, not all men.

    A ‘quirk of the year’ that is fun to talk about. :-)

  • 14
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Must admit looking at my bookshelf there is a tendency towards blokes. Apart from the obvious Austen and Brontes the most plentiful female is Atwood. (excluding my wife’s Sara Douglass collection). Though I have to say the author’s sex never plays a part in a book buying decision process. (I’m more likely to judge it by the cover!)

    But maybe women just aren’t good enough and really should stay out of the writing game. Oh for a time when writers were all good masculine types like George Eliot, Henry Handel Richardson and that bonza bloke Miles Franklin. ;-)

  • 15
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    ‘I have to say the author’s sex never plays a part in a book buying decision process. (I’m more likely to judge it by the cover!)’

    I concur! Or from what I’ve heard of the book. I never really give sex a second thought actually. But many ‘female-oriented’ covers naturally turn me off. Eg. chick-lit. But then so do many thriller-type covers, and others. It’s more genre-based than gender-based (my cover biases).

    Good one re Eliot, Richardson and Franklin ;-)

  • 16
    Greg G
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    2008
    The Time We Have Taken Steven Carroll
    The Fern Tattoo David Brooks
    Love without Hope Rodney Hall
    Sorry Gail Jones
    Landscape of Farewell Alex Miller

    2007
    Carpentaria Alexis Wright
    Careless Deborah Robertson
    Dreams Of Speaking Gail Jones
    Theft : A Love Story Peter Carey

    2006
    The Ballad of Desmond Kale Roger McDonald
    Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living Carrie Tiffany
    The Garden Book Brian Castro
    The Secret River Kate Grenville
    The Wing of Night Brenda Walker

    2005
    White Earth Andrew McGahan
    Salt Rain Sarah Armstrong
    Sixty Lights Gail Jones
    Gift of Speed Steven Carroll
    Submerged Cathedral Charlotte Wood

    2004
    The Great Fire Shirley Hazzard
    My Life as a Fake Peter Carey
    Elizabeth Costello J.M. Coetzee
    Three Dog Night Peter Goldsworthy
    Slow Water Annamarie Jagose
    Seven Types of Ambiguity Elliot Perlman

  • 17
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Now that just makes me see how many great books I haven’t gotten to. But I have read all of Gail Jones’. :-)

  • 18
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    And I guess it’s a law that any Peter Carey writing gets short listed…

  • 19
    Jo Case
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I think that the three novels by female writers most likely to have made the shortlist didn’t make the longlist. I thought the Sofie Laguna and the Toni Jordan were excellent novels (in very different ways), but yes, they were unlikely to unseat the likes of Winton and Flanagan. I’m amazed that The Spare Room wasn’t shortlisted, almost as amazed about Joan London’s The Good Parents. Was Michelle De Kretser’s The Lost Dog released in the right window for this year’s shortlist? If so, ditto for that.

    I’ve talked to other readers about this, and I do think gender CAN play a part in the reader’s reception to novels – for female readers as well as male. I have to admit that though I read a lot of books by men, I’m often drawn to books by women just a little bit more, because (huge generalisation here) they tend to concentrate more on relationships (which I’m attracted to as a subject for exploration) – just a little bit more. And are more likely to feature strong female characters, which I like. That said, as statistically there are more female than male readers, surely my (very subjective and personally-based theory) would favour books by women? So maybe that utterly punctures it …

    Personally, I would like to see The Slap win.

  • 20
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jo, thanks for your input! Anyone else have a tiny gender-bias due to the themes they perceive as being covered? Perhaps the themes I am interested in are just more broadly covered by male and female authors – transience, unspoken things, loneliness and connection (and failures to connect), technology, consumerism, alienation, modernity, discriminations against race/gender/class/sexuality, obsession, animal instinct vs the intellect. I think all of these things are explored by both my favourite male and favourite female writers.

    Hmm, just went and analysed my favourite books and it seems that 74% are by male authors. I don’t know what this means. Many of them are classics – and there are less female authors in the ‘classics’ section. Despite this, I will continue to read based on whether I think the story, themes and characters will interest me, not because I ‘should’ read more female authors to make it even.

  • 21
    morgan
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    And here’s another conundrum – from my experience of 30 years on and off as a bookseller, I would make the generalisation that very few men read literary fiction
    but a helluva lot of men write it. What’s that about?

  • 22
    Posted April 24, 2009 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    damn, I missed this entry when it came out, was travelling in Germany. I have a suspicion that the gender issue is similar as in rock music, where it is said that men support the artists they identify with and women the ones they fancy, which ends up being mostly men on both sides, of course.

    just to be contrary and different, I support female musicians and writers systematically. Hang on, there is a better reason than contrariness, too. In a world where men are systematically overrated and women underrated, you are much more likely to discover an exciting but underappreciated talent when you look through a given number of females than when you check the same number of males. Plus, I don’t need to buy a book to find out what middle-aged white men think, I can work that out for myself by looking into my own brain. And finally, I occasionally support female artists I fancy (which apparently is a female behaviour, see above).

  • 23
    Delly
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of women & prizes, interesting article in the Observer yesterday about the Orange prize:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/03/mccrum-orange-austen-oxford

    He makes a good point about it bringing more women writers into print – agents & publishers will take a risk on a ‘literary’ book if there’s a chance it will win a high-profile prize such as the Orange, even if it won’t make them much money – bringing kudos if not hard cash to their list… it certainly boosted Kate Grenville’s profile with her wonderful novel The Idea of Perfection.

  • 24
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Hi Delly, cheers for your input!

6 Trackbacks

  1. ...] going for until the shortlist is announced in April. Let’s hope it’s a bit more balanced this year, hey? Comments (0) | [...

  2. ...] on why certain books are chosen, and certain ones omitted. Last year, as I wrote about on LiteraryMinded, the shortlist was made up entirely of male authors. Debate raged in the blogosphere on why the [...

  3. ...] were selected in the shortlist, leading Crikey blogger Angela Meyer to dub the all-male shortlist a ‘sausage fest’. Literary critic and blogger Kerryn Goldsworthy highlighted the depth of female talent left out [...

  4. ...] of course, they’re all dudes (as in 2009). Roger McDonald and Kim Scott are also former [...

  5. ...] For the second time in three years, not a single female author made the shortlist for the country’s top books prize, the Miles Franklin, last month. The award – established, incidentally, through a bequest from the feminist and novelist Miles Franklin – has been won by a woman just 13 out of 50 times since it was set up in 1957, and only twice in the last decade. It is, said literary blogger Angela Meyer, on the announcement of the 2009 women-free shortlist, a “sausage-fest”. [...

  6. ...] For the second time in three years, not a single female author made the shortlist for the country’s top books prize, the Miles Franklin, last month. The award – established, incidentally, through a bequest from the feminist and novelist Miles Franklin – has been won by a woman just 13 out of 50 times since it was set up in 1957, and only twice in the last decade. It is, said literary blogger Angela Meyer, on the announcement of the 2009 women-free shortlist, a “sausage-fest”. [...

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