The Stella Interview: Astrid Edwards

Astrid Edwards is the 2025 Stella Prize Chair of Judges. She is a literary critic, educator and researcher who advocates for social and climate justice. We spoke with Astrid about judging literary awards, what excellence in books means and her hobbies.

astrid edwards

What excites you about judging the 2025 Stella Prize and awarding the next Stella Prize winner?

There is something inherently delicious in a prize like The Stella, founded with the intention to challenge the ‘old’ literary establishment. Despite all the flaws with literary prizes – and yes, I think there are flaws in our literary prize culture – the creative industries would be poorer (and have a lower profile) without this annual literary focal point.

For the last 13 years The Stella has brought together a different combination of five bookish types to find ‘original, excellent and engaging’ works. The books chosen don’t represent what came before; they represent a new way of valuing the literature written on this continent. That change matters, as does the fact that the judges change each year.

I often wonder how the prize will evolve over the next decade. The Stella was originally founded to platform fiction and non-fiction writing by women but has already grown. It now includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and graphic works published by women and non-binary writers. What excites me is how the 2025 winner will contribute to the prize’s ongoing evolution.

The Stella Prize is awarded to one outstanding book deemed to be original, excellent and engaging. What does original, excellent and engaging look like to you?

People who are chosen to be judges read a lot, which means the bar for ‘original, excellent and engaging’ is hard to achieve. My reading list has been public for years, and I read more than 150 books each year (even when not judging). When you read that much you see an awful lot of ‘sameness’, and this sense of ‘sameness’ is magnified when you focus your reading to books published in the same year meeting the same societal moment (as happens when judging).

Original, excellent and engaging books resist this ‘sameness’. A book can rile me up, shake me to my core, make me laugh or make me weep. It can come in any form, including an experimental one. But it needs to stand out, to do something with language, to challenge the way everyone else is telling stories.

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

The Stella Count changed the way I thought about my own reading habits, as well as my reading career. I was once a Classical Latin high school teacher, would you believe, in love with the Western epics of dead white men. But the results of the Stella Count enraged me. My reading life and published criticism shifted to contemporary works of all forms published on this continent. Over time, this reading shift has fundamentally changed my politics and worldview.

“Original, excellent and engaging books resist this ‘sameness’. A book can rile me up, shake me to my core, make me laugh or make me weep. It can come in any form, including an experimental one. But it needs to stand out, to do something with language, to challenge the way everyone else is telling stories.”

What was the last book you read by an Australian writer that you’d recommend?

This is a deeply unfair question, and I refuse to choose only one book. Instead, I am going to recommend three recent reads.

Alexis Wright’s Praiseworthy (2023), of course, which won the 2024 Stella Prize, and which I am gearing up to read a second time.

Sam Elkin’s Detachable Penis: A Queer Legal Saga (2024), which honestly has the best title and cover I have seen in a long time.

And finally, Unlimited Futures: Speculative, Visionary Blak and Black Fiction (2022), which was edited by Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail. The final contribution in this collection is a must read.

What’s your favourite time of the day to read?

Anywhere and anytime. Everything other than reading is my least favourite thing to do.

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

Honestly? I took up my grandparents’ hobbies: I knit and I garden. But most of my spare time is still devoted to reading.

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