Q&A with Stella’s Executive Director, Jaclyn Booton
Get to know Stella’s Executive Director, Jaclyn Booton
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to work with Stella?
I’ve worked in the arts in Sydney and Melbourne for the last 20 years, across a range of different artforms, including theatre for young people, circus, public programming, and literary events. I’ve always been a big reader and was working at the Wheeler Centre when Stella first began making waves. In fact, it was that first Stella Count that prompted me to analyse my own habits and deliberately start reading outside my ‘usual’ picks! When the opportunity to join Stella came up, I jumped at the chance; its reputation for supporting writers and doing things differently both really appeal to me.
What kind of books did you grow up reading? And how have your tastes and habits changed over the years?
I grew up in regional NSW where my local library was the most beautiful building in town. I spent hours in there, basically reading my way through everything I could get my hands on. Books that really stayed with me: Bottersnikes and Gumbles, Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman series, A Wrinkle in Time, and (of course) Hating Alison Ashley. The list goes on and on. I’ve always loved character-driven stories and losing myself in the world of a book. As an adult, I tend towards a lot of literary fiction and narrative non-fiction. This year, I made a conscious effort to read more poetry which is an absolute joy.
What role has feminism played in your life? And how does it impact the approach you bring to your work at Stella?
My sister and I were raised by a single mum, who taught us – from a very early age – to stand up for ourselves and go after what we wanted. So my feminism started in a very homegrown way. Then, at uni, I was drawn to subjects within the Gender Studies department, which gave me a formal understanding of feminist history and activist ideologies (as well as a sense of community and some life-long friends). In terms of our work at Stella, I’m energised by the ways contemporary feminism addresses power and control – social, cultural, economic, political, environmental – with the express purpose of creating a more just society for all. What does a just literary sector in Australia look like? And how can Stella contribute to that? This is the work that excites me.
What do you see as Stella’s role in the Australian literary community? And where do you see the organisation headed in the future?
Stella had such an extraordinary impact on the literary community right away, really forcing the sector to grapple with its own conscious and unconscious sexism. It’s testament to the power of a group of hardworking women who saw a problem, rolled up their sleeves, and got to work solving it. As we move into the second decade of Stella, I’m focused on maintaining that disruptive energy – looking for the systemic issues in our sector and collaborating with like-minded people and organisations to address them.
For example, it’s still incredibly difficult to make a living as a writer in Australia and we know those difficulties are compounded by geography, class, race, disability, and so forth. As such, Stella has an important part to play in supporting writers to write, and elevating voices that aren’t being heard.
Can you share any highlights from your time working with Stella so far?
Definitely the people: the writers, staff, publishers, judges, donors, researchers, booksellers, audiences, teachers, librarians, volunteers, students, everyone. At its best, Stella is a broad church – expansive enough to include a range of perspectives on feminism, what great writing is, how to drive systemic change in a liberal democracy – and getting to meet and talk to all these people through Stella is a definite highlight for me.
Which Stella Prize-listed book would you recommend people pick up?
Whichever one you haven’t read yet! Sorry to be obvious, but with nine years of Stella Prize books out there, there’s over 100 original, excellent, and engaging books to discover.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve turned to comfort reading during lockdown, so I’m on a queer lit bent at the moment. My bedside table includes some old favourites – Sarah Schulman’s People in Trouble, The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter – alongside recent releases One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, and Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby. It’s been a good run and I’d recommend all of them.