Interview: Sisonke Msimang – 2022 Stella Prize Judge
An interview with author, curator and 2022 Stella Prize Judge, Sisonke Msimang
What excites you about judging the 10th Stella Prize?
I’m excited about this being the 10th year which is such an important marker – a decade is enough time to effect real change, and yet of course not nearly enough time to alter the structures that continue to be patriarchal, and that continue to reflect the inequalities in our society. And so judging this award on the back of all it has achieved is a real honour.
What do you look for in a great book?
I don’t look for anything in particular. A good book grabs me, has a certain kind of magic and it won’t let me put it down. It has a voice that is bigger than the sum of its sentences.
What impact has the Stella Prize had on you personally as both a writer and a reader?
I’ve picked up many books I otherwise might have overlooked, and of course as a reader and a writer, many of those books have helped me to think about the world in deeper ways and so have helped me – I hope – to become a better writer.
What was the last book you read by an Australian woman or non-binary writer that you’d recommend?
I finally read Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria. I was blown away. It’s the kind of book you gift to the special people in your life.
2022 will be the first year that poetry collections are eligible for the prize. Who are some of your favourite poets, and do you have a particular poem or collection you often return to?
Alison Whittaker, and Ellen van Neerven are both incredible poets – direct and beautiful. And David Malouf remains one of those whose oeuvre is so large and who seems to have words for every occasion.
In terms of a collection I return to repeatedly, it’s The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni, which I got about a decade ago as a birthday present. It spans her earliest poems, including my favourite, ‘Nikki Rosa’, which includes the most succinct literary criticism of the white gaze I have seen anywhere. She writes in the final stanza:
And I really hope no white person ever has cause
to write about me
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
All the while I was quite happy.
What’s your favourite independent bookstore, and what do you love most about it?
We have a bunch here. Crow Books and Paper Bird which is like a wonderland for kids, and of course Boffins is a Perth Institution. And I really love Rabble Books. It’s the most welcoming space, the most responsive shop – always willing to chase down books, to host events. It’s a passion project that really celebrates the diversity of books and people and ideas.
When you’re not reading books, how do you spend your spare time?
Excuse me? I don’t understand the question.