Letter from the 2024 Stella Prize judge’s chair

Did you know that the 2024 Stella Prize longlist took less than 20 minutes to lock down? 

2024 Stella Prize Judge’s Chair, Beejay Silcox, on the selection of the 2024 Stella Prize longlist.

The deliberations for this year’s longlist were the shortest in Stella Prize history. After more than five months of solid reading, and with a pool of 227 entries, it took less than 20 minutes for us to lock down our finalists, so fervent was our consensus. The books on this list have emphatically – joyfully – earned their place.

The swiftness of our decision feels particularly remarkable given the astonishing quality of this year’s entrants. After years of pandemic enervation and isolation, it feels as if something new is brewing in Australian letters – a literature of ambition.

“Ambitious” is a barbed little word in this country, especially for women. But it’s a word we are determined to rescue from the misogyny, faint praise and tall poppy sneering.

The books on our longlist distinguished themselves with their irrepressible ambition. They are books that rattle our cages and dismantle our cultural scripts – books that brim with ideas and desires. Some are genre-bending and genre-busting; others are genre masterclasses. Some are quietly potent; others are bombastic and irrepressible. But they all demand – command – our full-hearted, full-minded attention. Tales of recalibration and reckoning.

With one exception, the longlisted books take narrative form: novels, memoirs, essays. Even the dyed-in-the-wool poets on our panel agreed that this was a mighty year for prose. The future of the Australian narrative is retina-burning bright.

They are books that rattle our cages and dismantle our cultural scripts – books that brim with ideas and desires. Some are genre-bending and genre-busting; others are genre masterclasses. Some are quietly potent; others are bombastic and irrepressible. But they all demand – command – our full-hearted, full-minded attention..”

And, once again, nearly half of the books on our have longlist come from small/indie publishing houses, testament to the vital role these publishers play in diversifying the Australian literary landscape – our cultural conversation is so profoundly enriched by their risk-taking.

It has been an honour to chair the 2024 Stella Prize, and to read alongside such a compassionate and insightful panel. My deepest thanks to my fellow judges: Eleanor Jackson, Bram Presser, Yves Rees and Cheryl Leavy.

It is my second year in a row reading for Stella. Since August of 2022, I’ve read close to 500 works by Australian women and non-binary writers. The heartbeat of Australian writing is here. These writers deserve a global readership. It is culturally damning that the great majority of them struggle to eke out a sustainable career at home.

Just one reason why the Stella Prize matters.

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