Stella is a major voice for gender equality and cultural change in Australian literature.

Founded in 2012, the organisation’s flagship program is the annual Stella Prize – a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing.

Stella also delivers a suite of year-round initiatives which actively champion Australian women writers, tackle gender bias in the literary sector, and connect outstanding books with readers.

Our purpose

Through a series of strategic initiatives, Stella strives to promote books by Australian women and non-binary writers, support greater participation in the world of literature, and create a more equitable and vibrant national culture.

Supporting women writers

Growing readership for women writers

Women writers make an invaluable contribution to Australian literature and cultural life. Through our public events and digital platforms, Stella raises the profile of women writers, drives significant book sales, and connects them to an ever-growing community of readers.

At Stella, we know women need two precious resources to write: time and space. Each year, Stella awards significant funds directly to women writers through the Stella Prize, which can literally buy them time to write their next book – as well as writing residencies that offer a much-needed break from daily life to dedicate to creative projects.

To read our statement on gender please click here.

Driving systemic change

Stella recognises that high-quality research is critical to tackling gender bias and promoting positive change. Our data-driven initiatives – including our long-running Stella Count – collect, analyse, and distribute research on gender bias in the Australian literary sector in order to inform, and ultimately, shift approaches towards equal representation in the arts.

Increasing access to and participation in literature

We believe storytelling and reading are essential tools by which to understand ourselves, foster connections with others, and learn about the world around us. Through Stella’s work with teens and teachers, we seek to engage and inspire the next generation of readers and writers, and create lasting pathways to participation in the world of literature.

The Stella Prize is a beloved and well-respected annual literary prize awarded to the most excellent, original and outstanding book written by an Australian woman or non-binary writer. Ever wondered who founded the Stella?

Dreams of the Stella Prize emerged in early 2011 out of a panel that was held at Readings, an independent Melbourne bookstore, on International Women’s Day.

The panel was a discussion about the underrepresentation of women on the literary pages of the major Australian newspapers, both as reviewers and as authors of the books reviewed. The panel also discussed the underrepresentation of women as winners of literary prizes.

Christine Gordon, Monica Dux, Jo Case, Louise Swinn, Rebecca Starford and Sophie Cunningham were part of that vital conversation. Soon after the panel at Readings, the group and Aviva Tuffield continued the discussion to find a way to secure the representation of women writers not only in literary prizes but in the pages of the national media. Foong Ling Kong joined shortly after.

They founded the organisation that delivers the Stella Prize, which was modelled after the UK’s Orange Prize (now the Women’s Prize). Thirteen years later, it is one of Australia’s most important literary prizes and the only one that recognises excellence in women’s and non-binary people’s writing.

The work of Stella, however, also encompasses a series of initiatives that advocate for women and non-binary writers and that provide development, networking and paid-work opportunities for all who have been nominated for the Stella Prize since 2012.

We asked the founders about their first Stella experience. Here is what they said:

“It was International Women’s Day and we were pissed off. The panel of speakers brought together by Readings and KYD [Kill Your Darlings], were unforgiving that night at Readings Carlton. Women authors were simply not getting enough attention in the media. Coverage was not equal. The more we listened to one another, the more our indignation grew. At drinks after the event, our wrath flourished as only it can when you are together, justified and able to make choices. We knew that if we kept the conversation going we could instigate change. And so we did, and the Stella Prize began. Our very first meeting was held in the Readings boardroom. I am immensely proud that the conversation has not stopped, and that we remain irate. The Stella Prize is an ode to determined women, to women who work and celebrate together. In my book, it doesn’t get better than that.” – Christine Gordon, Stella Prize co-founder and founding board member

“Coming together to discuss women’s underrepresentation in so many things literary, it became clear that there was a problem. There’s always so much talk, so many panels, that it was a relief to decide to take action. We didn’t know, at first, what precisely it would be, but the Stella Prize has grown into a force for good, and a force for change, in ways now numerous. All this awareness has seen a genuine shift in thinking. Ultimately, and this is the exciting thing, everyone benefits. – Louise Swinn, Stella Prize board member & co-founder

“Although I wasn’t at the International Women’s Day panel because – ironically – I had to go straight home after work to collect my four kids (I still think 6pm is a terrible time for literary events!), I was part of the follow-up email discussions and meetings. There just seemed to be something in the ether: a number of us almost simultaneously said, ‘We need an Australian version of the Orange Prize’, citing the success of the UK prize for women’s writing. We fleetingly toyed with naming it the Mango Prize, but I think it was writer Kirsten Tranter who first mentioned reclaiming Miles Franklin’s first name and calling it the Stella Prize – and it stuck immediately. And so began the steep learning curve for Stella as we figured out how to become a legal entity, fundraise, establish a literary prize and articulate our overarching vision. So much hard work by so many people – and Stella would never be where we are today if we hadn’t been so warmly embraced and championed by the whole literary community, including writers, booksellers, publishers, librarians, agents and readers.” – Aviva Tuffield, Stella Prize co-founder and past Executive Director

“As associate editor of Kill Your Darlings, I helped organise the International Women’s Day event at Readings that led to the founding of the Stella Prize. The event was centred on a discussion of the underrepresentation of women in Australian writing. A few days later, Sophie Cunningham, who would write a major essay for Kill Your Darlings about the issue, sent everyone who’d been involved an email inviting us to meet at Markov Bar to talk about how we might actually do something about changing things for the better. It just so happened that the all-male Miles Franklin shortlist was announced the day we met – which helped lead the discussion towards founding a prize that would actively redress a recurring gender imbalance in local literary prizes and raise the profile of women writers.
That group at Markov Bar became the original steering committee of the Stella Prize. It’s been amazing to watch the prize launch and take off in the years since. In the years since, publicists have told me that the sales figures suggest that the Stella Prize now sells the most books of any Australian literary prize. This makes me so happy. Selling books was a central aim from the beginning: it means that Australian women writers are being read in large numbers as well as celebrated and recognised.” – Jo Case, Stella Prize co-founder & founding board member

“My initial feelings when preparing for the panel held by Readings to celebrate the 100th anniversary of IWD, and indeed when I was speaking, were quite personal: I felt depressed. I had been talking about these kind of gender issues for thirty years. I felt that I was repeating myself and that things hadn’t improved over the decades I’d been calling myself a feminist. In fact, they’d become worse in recent times. Enough talking, I thought! It’s time to do something! And it was wonderful to realise that others in the room and on the panel, including Lou Swinn, Rebecca Starford, Jo Case and Chris Gordon, felt the same way. It wasn’t a feeling of anger so much as clarity. A positive, energised moment from which so much has come.” – Sophie Cunningham, Founding Chair, Stella Prize & co-founder

“The first VIDA count was released the year before we convened for the Readings panel, and I think it had left a deep impression on us all: those stark pie charts, testifying to the bias against women authors and reviewers that persisted in most major international literary publications. Armed with these sorts of statistics, it suddenly seemed impossible to deny that the literary world – like most other aspects of contemporary life – was still steeped in old-fashioned sexism. As we sat there that night, discussing all this, and the similarly dire situation in Australia, I felt a strange mixture of despair and excitement. A conviction that this was the time to act, and that if we did, there was a real opportunity to make a lasting difference.” – Monica Dux, Stella Prize co-founder & founding board member

“And now Stella is thirdteen – what a privilege it has been to watch her wander into the world and be embraced to the extent she has been by readers and writers! I can’t wait to see what her future brings.” — Foong Ling Kong, Stella Prize co-founder

On November 2023, three of Stella’s founders, Christine Gordon, Jo Case and Monica Dux, sat with current CEO and Executive Director of Stella, Fiona Sweet, to talk about the history of the Prize.

Click here to watch the panel.

Stella celebrates women and non-binary writers’ place in Australian literature to create a vibrant and equitable national culture. Stella drives significant cultural change by elevating the work of Australian women and non-binary writers. Storytelling and reading are tools to understand ourselves, foster connections with others, and create a better world. We promote greater access to, and participation in, the world of books and writing to combat gender bias in society.

Across our programs, Stella works with both women and non-binary writers. We recognise that what it means to be a woman is not static and that rigid gender binaries reinforce inequality. Stella advocates for a nuanced and respectful conversation about gender and gender bias – a complex and evolving cultural issue. Further resources and reflections on gender are available here.

Sexism and gender-bias don’t occur in isolation. Discrimination based on gender, race, age, class, socioeconomic status, disability, sexuality, religion, and ethnicity intersects and overlaps in complex ways. Women and non-binary people face structural barriers and societal biases in relation to their unique lived experiences of these – and other – factors. Stella opposes all forms of discrimination and takes an intersectional feminist approach to privilege and discrimination. We are committed to actively dismantling structural barriers to inclusion for women and non-binary writers, and acknowledge the overlapping barriers faced by women and non-binary writers with intersectional lived experience.

In pursuing our cultural change agenda, we are committed to creating a culturally safe, equitable and inclusive environment. Stella relies on and actively engages with a broad community, including our staff, board, judges, volunteers, partners, donors, sponsors, and other supporters. It is critical that this engagement in founded on respect; recognising each other’s essential human dignity in the context of differing lived experience and perspectives. All members should feel that they are safe in their identity, are treated equitably, and are a valued part of our Stella community. We are committed to promoting the well-being of all members of our community. We recognise that we are all responsible for engaging with respect, openness, nuance, humility, curiosity, and a willingness to listen. Doing so will strengthen our understanding of one another, cultivate greater respect and nurture deeper connections. This approach aligns with Stella’s commitment to celebrate women and non-binary writers’ place in Australian literature, and ultimately, to create a vibrant and equitable national culture.

Help change the story

As a not-for-profit organisation with ambitious goals, Stella relies on the generous support of donors to help fund our work.

Every donation is important to us and allows Stella to continue its role as the leading voice for gender equality and cultural change in Australian literature.

Stella is a not-for-profit organisation with DGR status. All donations of $2 or more are tax-deductible.