Interview: Alison Whittaker – 2023 Stella Prize Judge

Find out more about award-winning Gomeroi poet, essayist and legal scholar, and 2023 Stella Prize Judge, Alison Whittaker.

Alison Whittaker

What excites you about judging the 2023 Stella Prize and awarding the next Stella Prize winner? 

It’s nerve-wracking! We’re the beneficiaries of genuinely interesting books coming through right now in the Class of 2022. With the expanded eligibility, it’s time for us as judges to be awed and provoked.

What do you look for in a great book?

Guts. Guts and follow-through.

What impact has the Stella Prize had on you personally as both a writer and a reader?

It’s been a place to see works, especially since the expanded eligibility, that are often shut off from consideration in other big-money prizes. That’s affirming, as a writer and a reader who’s interested in pushing up against the edge of what’s possible on the page. As an Aboriginal writer and reader, it’s also one of two major literary prizes named in honour of Miles Franklin. Given her well-documented associations and sympathies, that also has an impact!

What was the last book you read by an Australian woman or non-binary writer that you’d recommend? 

Don’t Take Your Love To Town by Ruby Langford Ginibi (1988, republished in 2007). Like Tara June Winch said (of this and other works by the Bundjalung intellectual), her stylistic and substantive impact has been felt on almost all First Nations non-fiction writing since.

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?

It has to be Jazz Money’s How To Make A Basket (UQP, 2021), right? It’s fresh on my mind after a re-read last week, like breath in its move from forcefulness to grace. It’s up there on the shelf with the blak future classics of the last decade (of which there are many!).

 

“We’re the beneficiaries of genuinely interesting books coming through right now in the Class of 2022. With the expanded eligibility, it’s time for us as judges to be awed and provoked.”

What’s your favourite independent bookstore, and what do you love most about it?

Magabala Books in Broome! The bookstore attached to the publishing house is a great place to bask among the many books they’ve made space for in a publishing industry that’s not always right or ready. Not technically independent, but still a favourite.

When you’re not writing or reading books, how do you spend your spare time?

An embarrassing audit of my time: I’m walking (weather permitting), working, socialising, or playing a 4v1 survival horror game.

Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi poet, essayist and legal scholar. She is a Senior Researcher at the Jumbunna Institute. Her award-winning works include Lemons in the Chicken Wire and Blakwork, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Award and received a Queensland Literary Award. Her most recent book, Fire Front, is an anthology of, and about, First Nations published poetry.

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