2019 Stella Prize Award Night: Chair of Judges Louise Swinn announces the winner
In this seventh year of the Stella Prize, the high quality of the general submissions could, for anyone not paying attention, make you wonder why we have this prize at all. But the Stella has never been about an actual lack of talent — it is about perception and how this has affected the amount of space women’s writing has been allowed to take up.
Its continued success owes a huge amount to first patron Ellen Koshland, whose considerable support and unparalleled enthusiasm gave Stella the start we needed, and who continues to be an inspiration both to this organisation and to me personally.
Thanks to the board chair Seri Renkin and outgoing chair Caroline Ryan, and the board itself. Stella continues to grow, and this is thanks to the guidance of these board members who pour their hearts into the work they do, creating new opportunities for Stella, which began very much as a grassroots organisation.
Thanks to Megan Quinlan and Fiona Dunne, both of whom have moved onto other pastures but were critical in the organising of this year’s prize. Thanks to new Executive Director Michelle Scott Tucker who heads up the Stella crew, and all the Stella staff working largely behind the scenes. The administration of the Stella has always been of a high level and it makes a difference when you are involved, doing events or judging etcetera. Amazing new Prize Manager Clara Sankey has absolutely hit the ground running already.
Thanks to my fellow judges: Michelle de Kretser, Kate McClymont, Daniel Browning and Amelia Lush. It has been a joy working alongside you with your big brains and your respect for each other. No one was trying to win — we all just wanted to listen and negotiate.
Thanks to the writing and literary community who wholeheartedly got behind Stella from the very beginning, realising that unconscious bias exists and there is room for improvement. Stella has been met with open-mindedness right from the start, which is a reflection of this community that is open to criticism and responsive to it, wanting to grow and improve.
Thanks to the previous Stella longlistees, shortlistees and winners Carrie, Clare, Emily, Charlotte, Heather and Alexis, who are powerful and generous advocates. Thanks to those working in the books media and to our booksellers, who are championing Stella all year round.
Of the 170 or so books we read for the prize this year, there were many excellent titles that didn’t get on the Stella longlist of twelve. We talked about and loved a great swathe of these books and I would like to thank all of the writers whose books we had the privilege of reading. Writing a book is a huge undertaking and the rewards are few — but I think we need to hear women’s voices, and we need to engage with difficult and challenging stories by writers who push us to see the world as it really is.
The six shortlisted titles all have something to say about the way we live today, two in the form of nonfiction and four novels. These books are very outward-looking and unafraid. They deal with complex and complicated issues. They can be unsettling.
The winning book elegantly tramples all over the Stella requirements: it is excellent, engaging and original in spades. It is moving and funny, and as powerful in what it leaves out as it is in what it includes. It is also a first book, and I hope it’s the first of many. It is my considerable pleasure to announce that the winner of the 2019 Stella Prize is Vicki Laveau-Harvie for her memoir, The Erratics. Vicki, mega congratulations to you.