Interview: Sisonke Msimang – 2022 Stella Prize Judge

An interview with author, curator and 2022 Stella Prize Judge, Sisonke Msimang.

Sisonke Mismang

What excites you about judging the 10th Stella Prize? 

I’m excited about this being the 10th year which is such an important marker – a decade is enough time to effect real change, and yet of course not nearly enough time to alter the structures that continue to be patriarchal, and that continue to reflect the inequalities in our society. And so judging this award on the back of all it has achieved is a real honour.   

What do you look for in a great book?

I don’t look for anything in particular. A good book grabs me, has a certain kind of magic and it won’t let me put it down. It has a voice that is bigger than the sum of its sentences.  

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

I’ve picked up many books I otherwise might have overlooked, and of course as a reader and a writer, many of those books have helped me to think about the world in deeper ways and so have helped me – I hope – to become a better writer.  

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

I finally read Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria. I was blown away. It’s the kind of book you gift to the special people in your life. 

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? 

Alison Whittaker, and Ellen van Neerven are both incredible poets  – direct and beautiful. And David Malouf remains one of those whose oeuvre is so large and who seems to have words for every occasion. 

In terms of a collection I return to repeatedly, it’s The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni, which I got about a decade ago as a birthday present. It spans her earliest poems, including my favourite, ‘Nikki Rosa’, which includes the most succinct literary criticism of the white gaze I have seen anywhere. She writes in the final stanza:

And I really hope no white person ever has cause
to write about me 
because they never understand 
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll 
probably talk about my hard childhood 
and never understand that 
All the while I was quite happy. 

“A good book grabs me, has a certain kind of magic and it won’t let me put it down. It has a voice that is bigger than the sum of its sentences.”

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

We have a bunch here. Crow Books and Paper Bird which is like a wonderland for kids, and of course Boffins is a Perth Institution. And I really love Rabble Books. It’s the most welcoming space, the most responsive shop – always willing to chase down books, to host events. It’s a passion project that really celebrates the diversity of books and people and ideas.  

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

Excuse me? I don’t understand the question.  

Explore the latest from Stella

Meet the team: Megan McCracken We sat down with Stella’s newly appointed Chair, Megan McCracken, to talk about her new role, the …

Our Ambassadors: Courtney Stewart Stella Ambassador Courtney Stewart is the Artistic Director of La Boite Theatre. In this interview she talks about …

Stella welcomes new Chair, Megan McCracken Stella is pleased to announce the appointment of Megan McCracken as Chair of the Board. McCracken …

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.