Canterbury 2016 Graduate Wins Australia’s Richest Poetry Prize!

Canterbury Class Of 2016 graduate Svetlana Sterlin has won the Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award for her book-length manuscript: ‘If Movement Were A Language’.

Selected from a final distinguished shortlist of four candidates, Svetlana receives $40,000 plus publication of her winning manuscript by the independent Vagabond Press.

This is the fifth biennial award made under the bequest for a poetry collection by a female poet, which reflects Australian culture in some way, and is presented by the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Ms Sterlin commenced Year 9 at Canterbury College in 2013 representing Ramsey House, and was an active member of the school’s athletics, cross country and swimming teams.

She represented Canterbury numerous times in cross country events up to the regional level, swimming up to the national level, and even competed at the 2015 Pacific School Games.

In 2016, Svetlana held the position of College Swimming Captain and involved herself in the Good Shepherd Program – a Seniors mentoring initiative supporting Year 7 students. ✍️

On the academic front, Ms Sterlin won an Australasian Schools Writing Competition Achievement Award back in 2014 – a positive omen for the professional recognition to come.

Svetlana’s writing has been recognised with other literary awards, aside from this prestigious Helen Anne Bell Poetry Award, namely the 2023 Richell Prize and the State Library of Queensland’s Young Writers Award.

Her poetry and short fiction appears in: Island, Westerly, takahē, Meanjin, Cordite and elsewhere.

Svetlana also edits with Voiceworks and is the founding editor of her own magazine featured here on her website: ‘swim meet lit mag’.

As an emerging screenwriter, Ms Sterlin has participated in various programs and initiatives run by Screen Queensland and the Queensland Writers Centre.

While her early writing was based in the world of fantasy, her recent works are largely centred around her lived experiences – much of it about her huge passion for swimming – perhaps first gained with Canterbury College…

Born in New Zealand to Russian/Jewish parents, Svetlana is now a Swimming Coach based in Brisbane.

She grew up with her own successful Swimming Coach father, so naturally her many stories revolve around swimming and take place poolside – including her winning entry in this latest high-level prize.

The Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award judging panel praised her manuscript, calling it:

“Captivating in its evocations of swimming in literal and metaphorical terms, and in its characterisation of the complexities of a family life, at once supportive and salutary.”

“Each of the poems is striking as its own self-contained sigh and collectively they develop a powerful narrative arc mapped out in language that is fresh, lyrical, stylish and brave.”

“The collection confronts ideas of displacement, mortality, human intimacy and self-knowledge in challenging and engaging terms.”

Ms Sterlin expressed her gratitude in her award acceptance speech.

“This is an incredible honour. To be among such esteemed company and to have even made the shortlist is such a proud achievement of mine.”

“Now, the opportunity for my debut collection to be published with Vagabond is a dream come true.”

“I cannot wait for the ripples of my poems to reach the shores I’ve been swimming towards for so long.”

“As I grew up and my family moved around, swimming was one of the only constants in my life.”

The Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award is funded by the generous bequest of former university student and namesake Helen Anne Bell, and celebrates women poets and Australian literature.

Born in 1947, Bell worked widely in the areas of Adult Literacy and Aboriginal Education and was a Member of the NSW Adult Literacy Council, Australian Council for Adult Literacy, NSW Teachers Federation, Committee to Defend Black Rights and the Australian Association of Adult Education.

In this competition, entrants submit manuscripts between 50-80 pages long, which must relate to Australia in some way, and are judged by three distinguished award-winning Australian female poets and academics.

The current judging panel comprises of Cassandra Atherton, Jeanine Leane and Maxine Beneba Clark.

We couldn’t be prouder of Svetlana and her achievements, which reflect the spirit of excellence that defines Canterbury College.

Join us in congratulating Svetlana on this well-deserved honour!