2020 Stella Prize Broadcast: Chair of Judges Lou Swinn announces the winner
It’s an enormous privilege being able to read these 160 or so books that are submitted to the Stella. And it’s one we have not taken for granted, it’s important when engaging in this task, we acknowledge our privilege and make the best use of it, and work wherever possible towards undoing privilege.
We talk about the shortlist and the longlist and the winner but additionally it’s worth remembering that there are so many more books we read and enjoyed, and agonised over while reading for this prize. There are books that are quite simply incredible in certain ways that don’t make it on to this shortlist for one reason or another.
Ultimately, when we read most of the books by women and non-binary writers in Australia from one twelve-month period – what we get is an incredible education. Basically a degree. The great learning curve is philosophical. There are writers who are able to explain how to hold two conflicting opinions and find a way forwards, keen to do anything but generalise, which would be so much easier, simpler – not to mention, quicker.
These writers are holding people accountable, the state, our country, our politicians, each other, themselves, us. We’ve been fortunate to read writing by people who are devoted to telling the truth, and telling the truth is hard, it’s not easy but it is crucial and sometimes writers get it wrong but I am grateful that they are trying.
Some of the books that didn’t get longlisted for this prize are from writers who will no doubt go on to see serious critical acclaim. There are books we read when choosing the prize that left an indelible mark on me. The role of the writer gets in many ways harder – who can justify sitting and writing while the world is metaphorically as well as literally on fire.
The writer’s salary is in steady decline, who reads books – particularly fiction – when there’s the Guilty Feminist podcast, and iPhones and while there’s Fleabag and her hot priest.
Every single one of the peoples’ books we read for this prize are trying for something big. Every single one of their publishers and agents are believing in something that’s as close to magic as we are able to believe in in this post-irony, post-digital, post-caring age.
I want to thank my fellow judges, the Stella Prize always chooses an eclectic group of judges and it produces an incredibly eclectic longlist. My fellow judges this year have been Monica Attard, Jack Latimore, Zoya Patel, and Leni Shilton – and they have been generous and respectful of each other and of our writers, and they’ve been a delight to work with.
I want to thank the Stella crew, Jaclyn Booton, new at the helm, the new program manager Ana Boado, I want to give a big thanks to Clara Sankey who is now in the U.S. but got a lot of the ball rolling this year. The Stella Board and the Stella donors and Champions, particularly Ellen Koshland without whom none of this would have been able to get up off the ground.
Previous Stella winners, shortlisters and longlisters, and writers who go ‘round to schools with the Write Up program doing incredible work in metropolitan and regional places. There are many Stella ambassadors doing wonderful work.
Reading becomes more and more of an imperative – we need to be rangy readers – to read widely, wider than ever, read more to make sense of what’s going on and challenge our sense of the world and the way we view the world around us.
The more we read, the more curious we become, and while it seems as though there are people with very different views to ours, if we can try better to understand each other which might begin with broad reading, then we might have more of a chance of clearing up the mess, making peace, and as Margaret Atwood says “saving the oceans”.
On our 2020 Stella shortlist, we have Here Until August by Josephine Rowe – these are simply brilliant stories, we are all incredibly impressed by the quality of the sentences, the way language is used, this book was a no-brainer for our shortlist.
Diving Into Glass by Caro Llewellyn is that very special beast, a memoir written with such a sharp eye and ear, unflinching in its portraits, bearing all, incredibly moving, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking.
The novel There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett who just keeps getting better with each book. Such a tender story, sophisticated in structure, meticulous in its commentary on human nature. Incredibly, touchingly hopeful.
Charlotte Wood’s masterpiece – mistresspiece – The Weekend is such a sharp and painfully funny, unflinching portrait of these women who have been friends for a long time, with such easy skilful delightful prose.
In The Yield, Tara June Winch deals with intergenerational trauma in a cleverly constructed narrative balancing out multiple ideas and stories in a tale that is at no point predictable, at many points, deeply moving.
Jess Hill in See What You Made Me Do has taken what we think we knew about domestic abuse and shaken it up, turned it completely on its head, asked the questions that we couldn’t or wouldn’t address. Probed places beyond where our blinkered vision wanted us to look. In doing so, she’s drawn our attention to the single biggest crisis that faces contemporary Australia, but she’s done so in a book that is incredibly well-written, intelligently argued, forensically researched – a compelling book that must be read.
It is my considerable pleasure to announce that the winner of the 2020 Stella Prize is Jess Hill for her extraordinary work of nonfiction, See What You Made Me Do. Congratulations, Jess.
– Lou Swinn, Chair of the 2020 Stella Prize judging panel