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Literary role models

A new literary award for Australian authors has been announced. The Australian Society of Authors established the Barbara Jefferis Award to honour “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society.”

With a potential $35,000 prize attached to the award, it is sure to attract many submissions, but concerns have been raised about how to define a “positive” depiction, and some see the award as essentially paying for that message reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Herald’s chief book critic, Andrew Riemer, praised the award’s generosity but said: “I don’t like literary prizes being used for anything that can be seen as propaganda or a social agenda … I would have been happier if it had set out to reward novelists’ skill and imagination without attaching strings.”

The novelist Emily McGuire agreed: “I don’t like the idea of judging fiction based on its message.”

The author and critic Debra Adelaide worried the award might encourage the tendency of Australian writing to be “safe and constrained”.

Barbara Jefferis, who wrote nine novels and was the Australian Society of Authors’ first woman president in the 1970s, died in 2004. Her husband, John Hinde, died last year and set up the award in his wife’s honour as part of his will.