On 2 May 2024, Alexis Wright became the first writer to receive the Stella Prize twice. Watch and read a full transcript of her acceptance speech delivered at the 2024 Stella Prize Award Night.

Ladies and gentleman, distinguished guests, Stella judges, fellow writers, friends and family, and country …

Firstly, I wish to acknowledge and pay my respect to the people of the Kulin nation and their sovereign lands, and to their elders past and present. Thank you Aunty Diane Kerr for your generous welcome to country. I am privileged to be a guest on your country, your unceded sovereign lands that your people have lovingly cared for, nurtured, and honoured its creation, beliefs and laws since time immemorial.

I also acknowledge my own Waanyi homelands and our families and country across the Gulf of Carpentaria, and beyond. I am so pleased that Rachel Amini-Yanner, our chief executive officer of the Carpentaria Land Council, and her daughter Mayaar, are here with me and my family tonight.

2023 was an extremely strong year for Australian literature. Our writers sit alongside the best in the world in terms of how we are bringing literature into new, important, and exciting forms and content. The level of achievement is impressive and must be applauded. I thank the Stella judges for all your hard work. I know you had such a huge task this past year, and you have my admiration. I am deeply touched that you gave your heart and mind to a deep reading of all 227 entries for the Stella Prize. It was such a great honour for me that Praiseworthy was included firstly, in the Stella longlist, and then, in the shortlist along with:

The Swift Dark Tide by Katia Ariel
Body Friend by Katherine Brabon
Feast by Emily O’Grady
Hospital by Sanya Rushdi
Abandon Every Hope: Essays for the Dead by Hayley Singer

I extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the shortlisted authors and your publishers.

I am truly honoured that Praiseworthy now joins the prestigious company of previous winners of the Stella Prize.

I am humbled, and somewhat amazed that Praiseworthy now sits alongside Tracker, and that I have been awarded this enormous honour, the work of a dreamer, for the second time.

In Praiseworthy, I looked at the reality of our circumstances and what it would mean to face the challenge of living on a burning planet and carrying our culture and ancient wisdom into the future. I wanted to capture this spirit of the times at home and across the world.

I do not write expecting to win prizes. In the Aboriginal world we work very hard, but that often does not equate to great success – or accolades. My work has flowed from a commitment I made long ago to always challenge myself as a writer, to take risks and explore the world through my imagination. My main motivation with Praiseworthy was to complete the book and rise to the challenges it presented.

I have the greatest respect for the work of the Stella, and its commitment to nurturing and promoting the work of women writers in this continent. This makes me feel sure that all of the authors on the longlist and shortlist will grow in strength and endurance in the years to come.

Thank you to the Stella Forever Fund for your generous funding of the Stella Prize.

As I was preparing this speech, I thought about the process I take to my writing. As a writer, I find myself spending a great deal of time exploring big questions such as climate change and its impacts on our community and our future. I believe it is important that works of literature take on these challenges and develop literary forms that do it justice. So being here today is a far cry from what I normally do as a writer locked in thoughts about a book for almost ten years, or in how I think about the world, or even in how I work on the questions, ideas and concerns that have been strong enough to keep me on a long journey of asking how I might bring a new work together, give it a full life, portray a truer sense of the world and of ourselves, and how to create a better sense about what it means to be in the world at this time by questioning our sense of moving towards the future.

In Praiseworthy the character called Widespread asks, which way my humanity, what’s plan A, or even plan B. It may be that such questions about the growing and endless challenges of our fast-changing world are too big for literature, and perhaps some will say such questions are far too big for Australian literature. I believe literature must meet the scale of what is happening in the world. We have to, even foolishly, believe that anything can be done in life or in literature with deep thought, and that after reworking every word, line, and page many times, you might find that you can pull a big manuscript together. It can resonate with a very full spectrum of what it means to be human in the hot load of the 21 century. You may find that you can make the work hold over hundreds of pages, have made it stand up, and know that it will not fall over, and finally, feel in your bones that you have made a good attempt to grab the scale, or at least have wrestled with a big chunk you have broken off from the colossal narratives of the ever-increasing, unprecedented scope of what is happening in the world right now, in our times.

I was inspired to write Praiseworthy after asking some hard questions about climate change, and the concerns I have about the survival of our ancient culture. I was concerned to explore what unabated global warming will mean for increasing numbers of poor people in the world. What will it mean for many Aboriginal people who are already living through unprecedented times on a daily basis, as they have done for well over two centuries without much relief, nor respect for their sovereign rights.

How do we survive an uncertain future? In Praiseworthy, I looked at the reality of our circumstances and what it would mean to face the challenge of living on a burning planet and carrying our culture and ancient wisdom into the future. I wanted to capture this spirit of the times at home and across the world, and for a work of literature that was not just about ourselves, but that was also capable of capturing the beauty and joy of all things, the big and the small.

I started work on Praiseworthy at the same time that I started work on Tracker. When I was in Darwin to begin research work with tracker, I started Praiseworthy by visiting the Darwin Museum to study a display of local butterflies. I kept studying butterflies and moths, beetles and donkeys, and much more which would become a part of Praiseworthy. I intended Praiseworthy to be a big book in more ways than one. I hope the scale of the work is right for the times we live in.

My writing journey did not come from nowhere. I think of my grandmother, a woman of great wisdom, independence, and self-reliance, who from my early childhood, had guided my understanding about being in a world full of wonder and imagination. My mother was an exceptionally strong person and she taught me what sheer determination and independent thinking looked like, and what it would take to live in the world that I was growing into, and how to be prepared to meet some of the harsh realities of our life. I had the enormous privilege throughout my working career, to work with many of our greatest and finest elders of cultural wisdom, and to work with many brilliant Aboriginal political leaders. They all gave their time generously and gave me important guidance and opportunity to help me take my share of responsibility in our world.

As a writer, I have received great guidance through many brilliant colleagues like my good friend, and author, Nicholas Jose. I studied at RMIT university, and then, became a continuous member of the world-class Writing and Society Research Centre established by Western Sydney University in 2008. I was again, strongly supported by the University of Melbourne in my work as the Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature from 2018 until 2022. I am indebted to these universities for helping me become the writer I am today.

I am eternally grateful that my writing career has been guided by my publisher, Giramondo Publishing for almost two decades. I am indebted to the literary vision of Ivor Indyk. He is a genius and literary hero whose knowledge of literature, readership and publishing is unparalleled. Ivor is recognised and highly respected across the world for his achievements as a publisher. In fact, I believe Ivor is the best publisher in the world. His total dedication, care, and valuing of Praiseworthy right through the publishing process was extraordinary and exemplary. Thank you Ivor, Ev, Jenny Grigg for the magic cover of the swarming yellow butterflies in flight, and I thank all of the hard-working team at Giramondo.

What gives me great comfort and joy are my children and our far-reaching families. I thank my daughter Lily for her company on the long journey of writing Praiseworthy, for listening to some of the lines as they were being written, always giving 100 per cent positive feedback, and for enjoying the music.

Finally, I could not do what I do without the love and support of a very patient and generous husband. I thank my wonderful husband Toly who is here and sharing this incredible occasion.

Thank you Stella.

You are amazing and you know what? You make me feel glad all over.

Enjoy Praiseworthy. Please tell everybody to read it. It’s yours.

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