Five Stella Prize-listed books about motherhood.

Loving mothers, estranged mothers, mothers who didn’t want to mother, people who mother close family and non-biological children. These Stella Prize-listed books show some of the many variants of motherhood.

Graft

Graft | Maggie MacKellar


About the book

A gorgeously written reflection, set in Tasmania, on motherhood, farming, nature and home. Combining pages of her diary, kept through lambing seasons on a wool Merino farm on the east coast of Tasmania, with observations on the world around her, MacKellar writes a stunning thanksgiving on place, mothers, and the ways we cannot escape the elemental laws of nature. Her love for and knowledge of the land on which she lives, the lambs she cares for, and the birds she adores – illustrated in stunning line drawings through the book – are writ large. You will want to leap into the pages and walk beside Maggie as she saves ewes, lambs, tends to her beloved horses and dogs, and considers the challenges and joys of motherhood and farming.

The 2024 Stella Prize judges said:

“With great compassion and humility, MacKellar brilliantly interrogates notions of motherhood, animal husbandry and our relationship with the land we live on and those with whom we share it. She does not shy from the viscera of birth and death yet approaches them with the tempered decency of someone who not only knows how to pay attention to the world around her but also cares for it on a deeply personal level.” Read more about the book.

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In My Mother’s Hands | Biff Ward

About the book

There are secrets in this family. Before Biff and her younger brother, Mark,
there was baby Alison, who drowned in her bath because, it was said, her
mother was distracted. Biff too, lives in fear of her mother’s irrational behaviour
and paranoia, and she is always on guard and fears for the safety of her
brother. As Biff grows into teenage hood, there develops a conspiratorial relationship between her and her father, who is a famous and gregarious man,
trying to keep his wife’s problems a family secret. This was a time when the
insane were committed and locked up in Dickensian institutions; whatever his
problems her father was desperate to save his wife from that fate. But also to
protect his children from the effects of living with a tragically disturbed mother.

In My Mother’s Hands is a beautifully written and emotionally perplexing
coming-of-age true story about growing up in an unusual family.

The 2015 Judges’ said: “This memoir is a moving and disquieting account of life
in a family where silence ruled and nobody felt safe, but where everyone
remained as loyal, and even as loving, as they could. Ward’s story of her
family, and especially of her mother, is full of insight and frank intelligence, and
shows what terrible stress and struggle sometimes went on behind closed
doors in an era that stigmatised mental illness and idealised traditional family
life.” Read more about the book

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In my mothers hands
Bad art mother

Bad Art Mother | Edwina Preston

About the book

Good mothers are expected to be selfless. Artists are seen as selfish. So what does this mean for a mother with artistic ambitions?
Enter: frustrated poet Veda Gray, who is offered a Faustian bargain when a wealthy childless couple, the Parishes, invite her to exchange her young son Owen for time to write. Veda’s story unfolds as an adult Owen reflects on his boyhood in the suburbs of Melbourne, and in the vibrant bohemian inner-city art world where his restaurateur father was a king. Meanwhile, the talented women in his orbit – Veda, Mrs Parish, the wife of an influential poet, muralist and restaurant worker Rosa – push against gender expectations to be recognised as legitimate artists, by their intimates and the wider world. Almost-aunt Ornella, who declares herself without an artistic bone in her body, is perhaps the closest thing Owen has to a traditional mother. As Owen is encouraged to “be a man”, he loses something of himself, too.
Blending wit and pathos, love and fury, ambition and loss, this is an extraordinary novel of love and art, set in the Melbourne milieu of Georges and Mirka Mora, Joy Hester, and John and Sunday Reed.

The 2023 Judges said: “In Bad Art Mother, novelist Edwina Preston explores
the conflict between creativity and the conventional expectations of femininity.
The book incorporates elements of real Melbourne literary history – the career
of Gwen Harwood, the bohemia of Heide – into an account of fictional poet
Veda Gray struggling with the bounds of convention in a post-war Australia
deeply inhospitable to women writers. Veda’s letters and the memories of her
conflicted son Owen combine, complement and contradict each other, in a
clever, warm, and very moving novel about motherhood, sacrifice, and the
claims of art.” Read more about the book.

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The Other Side of the World | Stephanie Bishop

Charlotte is struggling. With motherhood, with the changes marriage and parenthood bring, with losing the time and the energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, wants things to be as they were and can’t face the thought of another English winter.
A brochure slipped through the letterbox gives him the answer: “Australia brings out the best in you.” Before she has a chance to realise what it will mean, Charlotte is travelling to the other side of the world. Arriving in Perth, the southern sun shines a harsh light and slowly reveals that this new life is not the answer either was hoping for. Charlotte is left wondering if there is anywhere she belongs and how far she’ll go to find her way home… A novel of astonishing grace and devastating emotional power that will make your heart ache.

The 2016 Judges said: “Beginning as a story about migration and the constraints of domesticity, The Other Side of the World expands into a tale of the nature of belonging, the complexity of motherhood and the dangers of nostalgia. The freedoms and duties imposed by culture, gender, race and class all emerge in this study of one particular marriage, as it unravels in the West Australian heat.” Read more about the book.

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The Other Side of the World
stone fruit

Stone Fruit | Lee Lai

Bron and Ray are a queer couple who enjoy their role as the fun weirdo aunties to Ray’s niece, six-year-old Nessie. Their playdates are little oases of wildness, joy, and ease in all three of their lives, which ping-pong between familial tensions and deep-seated personal stumbling blocks. As their emotional intimacy erodes, Ray and Bron isolate from each other and attempt to repair their broken family ties – Ray with her overworked, resentful single-mother sister and Bron with her religious teenage sister who doesn’t fully grasp the complexities of gender identity. Taking a leap of faith, each opens up and learns they have more in common with their siblings than they ever knew. At turns joyful and heartbreaking, Stone Fruit reveals through intimately naturalistic dialog and blue-hued watercolour how painful it can be to truly become vulnerable to your loved ones and how fulfilling it is to be finally understood for who you are.

The 2022 Judges said: This is a deceptively simple depiction of the many various and complicated versions of familial love and care we can experience in our lives. Stone Fruit is a work that is honest, unassuming, and powerfully told. Read more about the book

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