Interview: Cate Kennedy – 2022 Stella Prize Judge

The Stella Prize chats with award-winning writer and 2022 Stella Prize Judge, Cate Kennedy.

Cate Kennedy

What excites you about judging the 10th Stella Prize? 

The Stella Prize longlist each year represents the stunning quality and diversity of writing published and gives deserved attention to many significant works which may otherwise pass under the radar.  

What do you look for in a great book?

I look for heart and soul: the verve of a skilful voice and the authority which comes from understanding the form perfectly to create a precise desired effect  –  the close-up magic of great storytelling which takes us into new territory.  

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

As a reader, it’s shown me where the good books are which I need to read and champion! As a writer, it reassures me that I’m not invisible or working away in vain – that there are committed readers willing to seek out work by Australian women writers and grant it their attention – this spurs me on. 

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

Tara June Winch’s The Yield is an extraordinary book, one that I return to often. 

2022 will be the first year that poetry collections are eligible for the prize. Who are some of your favourite poets, and do you have a particular poem or collection you often return to? 

Yes – I return to the poetry of Seamus Heaney and W. H Auden. I have been thinking lately of Auden’s poem written in 1939 when he felt full of despair for the world and for his place in it when, as he writes “All I have is a voice/ to undo the folded lie”.  I have had periods of feeling pretty despairing myself over the ‘point’ of writing poetry at all, but take heart from what this troubled but honest poet says about this condition as he watched Europe on the brink of war and division:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

That’s what poetry collections do: show an affirming flame, flashing like a small point of light. So while I read a lot of contemporary work by poets I also love, I return to Heaney and Auden, Shakespeare and Rumi, poets who show me we have been through these ‘unprecedented’ times before, and reach for connectedness. 

 

“That’s what poetry collections do: show an affirming flame, flashing like a small point of light.”

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

While I love Readings Books and have for years, I also love my local Castlemaine independent bookstore, Stoneman’s Books, who have carried on ordering and locally delivering books during lockdown and are great supporters of local writers. 

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

 

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