The Stella Interview: Alexis Wright – 2024 Stella Prize shortlist

In the Stella Prize Interview, we chat with Alexis Wright, shortlisted for the 2024 Stella Prize for her epic novel, Praiseworthy.

Alexis Wright

What is the one thing that writing Praiseworthy taught you about writing?

Writing my latest work Praiseworthy has given me a deeper understanding of the importance of following a literary vision. In this work, I had to challenge myself to follow a literary vision that refused to be contained or restrained. I had to create a story on a larger scale – the scope and breadth of which would do justice to the enormity and urgency of what is happening in our world.

In writing this book I have learnt the importance in taking the path you have chosen to take as a writer, and to become the writer you need to be. You must write about what you feel passionately. You must continue writing in this way without compromise or distraction about what does not fall into this realm. Stay true to your vision. 

Most of all, I learnt that to sustain a work of the scale of Praiseworthy requires enormous levels of energy, determination and endurance – using the power of the mind to stay focussed on building greater imaginary possibilities, and never giving up until the work is completed, and somehow represents the vision of what it is meant to say.

What is one lesson that you learnt early in life that has helped your writing process?

In Praiseworthy, I needed to reach greater levels of patience than what I had already established in my other works which had a long and demanding creative process. Early in life I learnt some valuable lessons from my elders about patience and dedication. I saw how they taught young people to think carefully and deeply, and to use mental agility to carry out responsibilities in accordance with our law and culture. This has enabled us to survive for thousands of years in this continent.

“I come from a world of the greatest of storytellers. We are a storytelling culture. Some of the most important, oldest, richest and ever-lasting epical law stories belong to the Aboriginal culture of this land.”

What are the key questions that Praiseworthy tackles? 

In developing Praiseworthy, I knew I would require a large-scale canvas because of the very serious questions it was asking – questions about the ability of Aboriginal people to survive on our homelands in a future of Global emergencies. Praiseworthy needed its own tone and style – to strike a different chord, which reflected the rhythms and music of our country. I had to develop a language and dramatic purpose which spoke to the universalities of how we are interconnected and related throughout the world.

Writing Praiseworthy challenged me to go further than I have ever done before. I realised that there are no limits for what literature can explore, not just for the literary world, but to play its part in a world needing to find a way to survive in the future. 

Which storytellers, writers and books made their mark on you early on? 

I come from a world of the greatest of storytellers. We are a storytelling culture. Some of the most important, oldest, richest and ever-lasting epical law stories belong to the Aboriginal culture of this land. I always think of my grandmother as having had a huge influence on my life from a very early age. She was a woman of great wisdom who would guide me through a world full of wonder and imagination, and connectedness, as seen through her deeply-felt cultural consciousness. Throughout my life, I have had the enormous privilege to work with and learn from some of the most senior Aboriginal men and women of great wisdom and knowledge, and the keepers of cultural law and story. I have also learnt form some of our finest Aboriginal political leaders who are brilliant storytellers. We have great storytellers everywhere. Very early on in my career, I searched for, and learnt from many writers across the world. A few of these writers include James Joyce, Carlos Fuentes, Italo Calvino, Seamus Heaney, Halidor Laxness’ Independent People. I have continued on this journey of learning from writers worldwide.

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