Interview: Alice Pung – 2023 Stella Prize Chair of Judges
Get to know award-winning writer, and 2023 Stella Prize Chair of Judges, Alice Pung
What excites you about Chairing the 2023 Judging Panel and awarding the next Stella Prize winner?
Reading all the excellent books that I know have been published in 2022! And of course, working with my fellow judges, and the main judging day when we all get in a room together to give the books the consideration and time they deserve.
What do you look for in a great book?
A great book can be anything for me – crime, graphic novel, romance, literary, non-fiction, poetry – as long as it is original, thought-provoking, and compels me to turn the pages.
What impact has the Stella Prize had on you personally as both a writer and a reader?
I have been lucky enough to have been longlisted for the Stella Prize, and I am a Stella Ambassador, a role that has enabled me to meet so many talented young women aspiring to write. It has also put me on incredible panels with other writers I greatly admire like Rebecca Lim and Leanne Hall. I have learned a lot from Bec Kavanagh, whose presentations about the state of women in literature made me question my own assumptions about gender in children’s books (almost all the animals by default are male).
What was the last book you read by an Australian woman or non-binary writer that you’d recommend?
I read so many it is hard to choose! And I am not allowed to choose one from this year. So I will go back to an older one, by Quinn Eades called All the Beginnings, a very visceral look at love and motherhood. I dip in and out of it at times, and there is always something new I find in there.
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?
My favourite poet is Maxine Beneba Clarke. Her poems in the Saturday Paper were what I looked forward to over the weekend.
My favorite collection is a book from 1987, called Seven Centuries of Poetry in English edited by John Leonard. It was actually a school textbook and it introduced me to John Donne, Wilfred Owen, alongside Judith Wright and Les Murray. It was a strange collection but a wondrous one.
What’s your favourite independent bookstore, and what do you love most about it?
Readings Carlton. It’s my local bookstore and they have supported me ever since Unpolished Gem came out sixteen years ago. I love them so much. The staff are wonderful and it’s within walking distance from where I live. They are also true survivors – people said they might not last when that massive Borders bookstore opened across the road, but they are still standing and Borders is not!
When you’re not writing or reading books, how do you spend your spare time?
I like to go with my kids and husband, on rainforest walks, and make things out of fabric.
What are you working on currently? What can we expect from your next book?
My next book will come out in September and is a children’s book that is illustrated by my talented artist friend Sher Rill Ng. It is a bilingual book (written in both English and Chinese – not a translation, but two simultaneous, similar stories). We are very excited to share this with a younger readership!
Alice Pung OAM is an award-winning writer based in Melbourne. She is the bestselling author of the memoirs Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter, and the essay collection Close to Home, as well as the editor of the anthologies Growing Up Asian in Australia and My First Lesson. Her first novel, Laurinda, won the Ethel Turner Prize at the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. One Hundred Days is her most recent novel, which was shortlisted for the 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Alice was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to literature in 2022.