Barbara Jefferis Award

 

The Barbara Jefferis Award is offered biennially for “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”.

Barbara Jefferis was a feminist, a founding member of the Australian Society of Authors, its first woman President and, in the words of Thomas Keneally, “a rare being amongst authors, being both a fine writer but also organisationally gifted. She was a professional and internationally published writer long before most of us dreamed of such things”.

The Award is supported by the Barbara Jefferis Literary Fund, which was established as a result of a bequest from Barbara Jefferis’ husband, ABC film critic John Hinde, who died in 2006. The Australian Society of Authors is the Trustee of the Fund.

Past winners of the award include S.L. Lim (Revenge: Murder in Three Parts, 2022), Lucy Treloar (Wolfe Island, 2020), Libby Angel (The Trapeze Act, 2018) Peggy Frew (Hope Farm, 2016), Margo Lanagan (Sea Hearts, 2014), Fiona McFarlane (The Night Guest, 2014), Anna Funder (All That I Am, 2012), G.L. Osborne (Come Inside, 2011), Kristina Olsson (The China Garden, 2010), Helen Garner (The Spare Room, 2009) and Rhyll McMaster (Feather Man, 2008).

In 2024, the Award prize pool is valued at $55,000, with $50,000 for the winner and $5,000 to be shared among the short-listed authors, making this one of the most generous literary awards in Australia.

For the latest Barbara Jefferis Award news, follow @barbarajefferisaward on Instagram.

Key dates

Applications open

17 April 2024

Applications close

24 May 2024, 5pm AEST

Shortlist announced

18 September 2024

Announcement of the winner

Early November 2024, at the Colin Simpson Memorial Keynote

Entry information

The Barbara Jefferis Award is for a novel (book-length work of fiction) first published commercially and distributed in the period 1 January 2022 – 31 December 2023 (“Publication Period”).

Each entrant must:

  1. complete and submit the online application form; and submit an electronic copy of the novel, in Word, PDF, or epub format, using the upload function on the online submission form.

  2. post or deliver one (1) hard copy of the submitted novel to the ASA office:

    Services and Awards Coordinator
    Australian Society of Authors
    Suite C1.06, 22-36 Mountain Street
    Ultimo NSW 2007

  3. pay the $65 application fee per entry through the online application form.

 

Entries must conform to the Award’s Terms and Conditions.

2024 Judging Panel

Barbara Jefferis Award FAQs

The 2024 Barbara Jefferis Award is open to novels first published commercially and distributed in the period 1 January 2022 – 31 December 2023. This means any works first published before or after this date range are not eligible for the 2024 Award.

The Barbara Jefferis Award is for a novel, i.e. a book-length work of fiction. Both Adult and Young Adult fiction novels are eligible for consideration. Short story collections in these readerships are eligible for consideration. Children’s writing, poetry and non-fiction are not eligible for this Award.

Yes, both traditionally published and independently published works are eligible for the Barbara Jefferis Award so long as they have been published commercially and distributed between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021.

Yes, books that have been published in ebook form only are eligible for consideration. All applicants are required to provide a digital copy of the ebook during the submission process. Books that have also been made available in print formats must also post one copy of the hardcopy to the ASA Office.

Novels may be submitted by the author, or by the publisher or literary agent on behalf of the author. If a novel is entered by a publisher or agent, they require the author’s consent to enter the novel.

If you are an author who has been traditionally published, please check with your publisher before submitting your work as they may be planning to enter your work.

Yes, the author of the submitted novel may identify as any gender. As long as the novel includes a positive representation and/or empowers the status of women and/or girls, the author may be of any gender identity.

The judging panel for the Barbara Jefferis Award assesses novels against two criteria, namely:

(a) the literary merit of each novel, defined as the entrant’s writing ability, focusing on style, appropriateness of form, skilled use of language, clarity of expression and sustained development of themes or ideas; and

(b) the work’s success in depicting women and/or girls in a positive way or in a way that otherwise empowers the status of women and/or girls in society.

The Barbara Jefferis Award’s definition of women and/or girls is inclusive of women and girls of all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and all people who identify as women/girls.

Over the years, the judging of the Barbara Jefferis Award has highlighted the different considerations important to answering these questions. In 2008, the judges praised the inaugural winner, Rhyll McMaster’s Feather Man, for its complex female characters, depicted ‘in all their fabulous monstrosity’. In 2010, Kristina Olsson’s winning The China Garden was admired for its depiction of female resilience, suggesting ‘that it is always possible to make new things out of the past, however fractured or painful’. And in 2014, Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, explored the life and sexual desires of an elderly woman, offering insight into a group of women who have traditionally been rendered invisible in literature.

 

As feminist conversations evolve over time, from questions about the role of women in society to discussions about intersectionality and what is meant by the term ‘woman’, so too does the interpretation of the criteria of the award evolve. In 2018, judge Sandra Yates decried the plethora of novels where the abuse of women featured as the driving force behind the plot, stating:

 

“We were surprised, I have to say, that so many even in the longlist seemed to have such dark, negative portrayals of women in them…We [women] don’t need any more books about our capacity to endure, I think we have established that.”

 

In contrast, the winning title from that year, Libby Angel’s The Trapeze Act, was praised for its strong female protagonist in charge of her life, who may not be likeable, but who demonstrates bravery and willpower.

 

But where is the line drawn between a story featuring suffering and endurance, and a story about the resounding resilience and strength of women? Does a female character need to be likeable to empower the status of women in society? Can a positive depiction of women include a woman who is not able to overcome all the obstacles society lays in her path by virtue of her gender? Is it a positive representation of women if the protagonist succeeds at the expense of other women in the story? It is discussions on exactly these kinds of questions that the Barbara Jefferis Award generates.

Past winners

S.L. Lim wins 2022 Barbara Jefferis Award

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA), is delighted to announce the winner of the 2022 Barbara Jefferis Award is S.L. Lim for Revenge: Murder in Three Parts (Transit Lounge Publishing).

 

The judges said, ‘In choosing Revenge as our winner, we firstly discussed the almost painful sympathy we felt for the protagonist, Yannie. While other books on our shortlist were also emotionally involving, particularly the books by Down, Janson, and Wyld, we felt that Revenge edged ahead of these due to the freshness of its setting and the relevance of its message to everyone. None of us could recall reading a recent novel set in Malaysia, despite its proximity to Australia, nor one dealing with the ingrained sexism that robs girls and women of the chance to live a full life. 

 

We admired Lim’s clear eye in addressing the internalised misogyny of their women characters and the agony of Yannie’s desires in a homophobic society. Revenge could be read as a revenge fantasy, and while this view is cathartic, it’s not just about one woman and her story. 

 

Our deciding factor was the incredible way that Lim addresses the complex structural and cultural dynamics that prevented Yannie having agency over her own life. Revenge answers those people who say: why didn’t she just? Why didn’t she just leave, why didn’t she just say no, why didn’t she just do it anyway? Because Yannie loves the people who oppress her more than she loves herself, because of the messages she’s received since she was born.’

 

S.L. Lim says, ‘I’m delighted to accept the Barbara Jefferis Award in honour of that author. I’m grateful to the judges, the ASA, and to John Hinde for being a person who liked things and who chose to support them even after his passing. Many good writers win prizes and many don’t; today I am a happy person in category A. This award makes a big difference to my life and I hope that others who need and deserve a break get theirs too!’

 

ASA CEO, Olivia Lanchester says, ‘Our warm congratulations to S.L. Lim! Revenge is an extraordinary, unapologetic novel which holds a mirror to society, and explores, heartbreakingly, the inequities faced by Yannie and shared by many women and girls. The simmering rage of this novel is compelling. The Australian Society of Authors is honoured to be the Trustee of the Award, and is grateful for John Hinde’s bequest to commemorate his wife, Barbara Jefferis.’

 

Lim was announced as the 2022 winner at a ceremony at the State Library of Victoria in Naarm/Melbourne on Thursday 29 September.

 

This year’s judging panel was chaired by internationally bestselling author Toni Jordan. Jordan was joined on the panel by writer, musician, and former Barbara Jefferis Award winner Peggy Frew, and writer, poet and essayist Declan Fry.

 

The 2022 shortlist included:

  • Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down (Text Publishing)
  • Ordinary Matter by Laura Elvery (University of Queensland Press)
  • Benevolence by Julie Janson (Magabala Books)
  • Revenge: Murder in Three Parts by S.L. Lim (Transit Lounge)
  • Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan (Brio Books)
  • The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (Penguin Random House Australia)

 

Three highly commended novels were also selected:

  • She is Haunted by Paige Clark (Allen & Unwin)
  • A Million Things by Emily Spurr (Text Publishing)
  • The Performance by Claire Thomas (Hachette Australia)

2020 Barbara Jefferis Award winner announced

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA), Trustee of the Barbara Jefferis Fund, is delighted to announce the winner of the 2020 Barbara Jefferis Award is Lucy Treloar for Wolfe Island.


The judges noted:


‘Set on a sinking island, in a country riven by racial violence and social inequity, this brilliant novel demonstrates that catastrophes bring out the best and worst in people, and that lawless acts are sometimes necessary in order to save ourselves. Cat’s passing reference to The Grapes of Wrath at one point is apt, for the parables contained in Kitty Hawke’s meetings during her epic journey north to the border, were reminiscent of any everyman’s journey undertaken in classic works of literature. Kitty’s later reconciliation with Hartford, Claudie, and with Alejandra offer hope for the future. Lucy Treloar’s novel is of immense contemporary relevance about the redemptive power of female intuition, resistance and resilience.’


ASA CEO, Olivia Lanchester said, “Our warmest congratulations go to Lucy Treloar. Wolfe Island is an exceptional novel, and a powerful contribution to literature which foregrounds the lives and experiences of older women. We are honoured to be the Trustee of such an important award, and are grateful for the generosity of John Hinde who bequeathed the Fund in honour of his wife, Barbara Jefferis.”


Treloar was announced as this year’s winner in an online ceremony hosted by Bri Lee, who delivered a thought-provoking speech on the representation of women in literature. 


The award received a record number of entries in 2020 and judges Dr. Robyn Sheahan-Bright, Dr. Jeremy Fisher, and Barbara Horgan judged an incredibly diverse and creative pool of talent.


The 2020 shortlist included:

  • The White Girl, Tony Birch (UQP)
  • Too Much Lip, Melissa Lucashenko (UQP)
  • There Was Still Love, Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia)
  • Wolfe Island, Lucy Treloar (Pan Macmillan Australia)
  • The Yield, Tara June Winch (Penguin Random House Australia)


The winner announcement took place at an online ceremony on Wednesday 18
November 2020 at 4pm AEDT on Youtube, hosted by award-winning author Bri Lee.
Watch it here.