Interview: Astrid Edwards – 2023 Stella Prize Judge
An interview with renowned bibliophile, writer, podcaster and 2023 Stella Prize Judge, Astrid Edwards
What excites you about judging the 2023 Stella Prize and awarding the next Stella Prize winner?
Prizes mean recognition – for individuals, of course, but also for the industry and community. Why should writers not be recognised and rewarded? Why should the act of storytelling not be celebrated?
Prizes also represent legacy. Already the Stella Prize can look back on a decade and offer up to history some of the best writing published in Australia. Every year the prize continues – including in 2023 – that legacy will grow.
What do you look for in a great book?
A great book is indefinable… and not like anything else. For me, a great book has to offer something not done elsewhere – a new perspective, a deliberate challenge, a fresh take, a different use of language. A great book creates a world unto itself.
What impact has the Stella Prize had on you personally as both a writer and a reader?
The Stella has evolved – not an easy thing to do in any organisation or prize – and that sets it apart from other literary prizes in Australia. It set a new standard in what the writing, editing and publishing industries can and should aim for.
Also, the Stella Count made a deep impression on me over the years. Counting and then publishing the number and length of commissioned reviews in major publications by women and non-binary critics (compared to men, or course) shed a light on persisting inequities and made the case for change.
What was the last book you read by an Australian woman or non-binary writer that you’d recommend?
This is a tough one. I have read many! I’ll go with After Australia, which is a collection of speculative fiction works (including from Claire Coleman and Michelle Law), as well as its companion collection Another Australia (featuring pieces from Sisonke Msimang and Sara Saleh).
2023 will be the second year that poetry collections are eligible for the Stella Prize. Who are some of your favourite poets, and do you have a particular poem or collection you often return to?
Maxine Beneba Clarke’s collection How Decent Folk Behave, as well as Ali Cobby Eckermann’s verse novel Ruby Moonlight, are among my contemporary favourites.
To answer the question from a different angle, Under Milk Wood: A play for voices by Dylan Thomas will always grab my attention. It is technically a radio play, but it was written as a lyrical experiment to explore the Welsh accent. I would love to see that done in poetry with one or many Australian accents.
What’s your favourite independent bookstore, and what do you love most about it?
Roaring Stories in Balmain in New South Wales. There has been an independent bookstore in that location for more than fifty years, and I worked there (when it was known as Brays Books) during my university days. For me, browsing the shelves there feels like going home.
When you’re not writing or reading books, how do you spend your spare time?
My spare time is devoted to reading… But I confess, I took up knitting during Melbourne’s lockdowns. I have recently moved to regional Victoria and I’m a budding apiarist, and I hope to have my first hive in late 2022.
Astrid Edwards is a bibliophile. She is the host of The Garret: Writers on Writing, teaches in the Associate Degree of Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT University, and occasionally writes book reviews. She is the former Chair of Melbourne Writers Festival, and until 2022 she served on the Victorian Disability Advisory Council. Astrid was a contributor to the 2021 anthology Growing Up Disabled in Australia.