The Stella Prize Longlist

The Stella Prize longlist was announced March 4, which means twelve new books to add to your “To Be Read” list (actual reading optional, unlikely, and encouraged). 

The Stella Prize is the foremost Australian literary award specifically for women and non-binary authors. Founded in 2012, Stella works to place the writing of women and non-binary authors at the forefront of conversation, promoting gender equity within the Australian literary scene and contributing to a ‘vibrant national culture’. 

The $60,000 prize is awarded annually to one book deemed ‘original, excellent, and engaging,’ and among the winners (and those long- and short-listed) are some of Australia’s most recognisable literary names. Think Hannah Kent, Michelle De Kretser, Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko, Ellen Van Neerven (ANU’s own 2023 HC Coombs Fellow), Georgia Blain. Last year, the Stella was awarded to Sarah Holland-Batt for The Jaguar, and in 2022 was taken by Evelyn Araluen for Dropbear (which I can vouch for as a brilliant collection, even as someone who mostly associates contemporary poetry with Instagram poetry and therefore actively avoids it, preferring arrogantly to remain ignorant).

The 2024 lineup is a noteworthy one. In a deviation from the past two years, only one poetry collection has been longlisted, and almost all of the titles come from smaller independent publishing houses. In fact, only two — Maggie Mackellar’s Graft (Penguin) and Stephanie Bishop’s The Anniversary (Hachette) — have made it onto the longlist from ‘Big Five’ publishers. The Big Five consists of HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette, and Penguin, which tend to collectively dominate the publishing industry. It’s a big year, then, for indie presses and prose writing.

This year proffers some very well-established names — many of whom have previously been listed for (or, in the case of Alexis Wright, won) the Stella — as well as some who are newer to the game. The shortlist will be announced on the 4th of April, and the winner on the 2nd of May.


Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright

Undoubtedly one of the greatest living Australian writers, Alexis Wright’s latest epic novel Praiseworthy seems to be just that — the New York Times calls it ‘the most ambitious and accomplished Australian novel of this century.’ Each of her three other novels — Plains of Promise (1997), Carpentaria (2006) and The Swan Book (2013) — have been similarly received. Carpentaria won the 2007 Miles Franklin, and her ‘unconventional’ (Sydney Morning Herald) memoir Tracker (2017) won the 2018 Stella Prize, which makes Wright the only author to hold both the Miles Franklin and the Stella.

Wright, a Waanyi woman,  blends the real, the surreal, and the magical and draws on the rhythms of oral storytelling to create sprawling, sharply intelligent works of profound commentary on ‘contemporary Aboriginal life’ (Giramondo Publishing) and the ongoing nature of colonialism.

Praiseworthy has already taken the 2023 Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, and looks set to be a fierce competitor for the 2024 Stella.


She is the Earth by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Notably the only poetry collection longlisted this year, Ali Cobby Eckermann’s She is the Earth ‘is unlike any other book in Australian literature’ (The Conversation). In 2017, Eckermann won the international Windham-Campbell prize, becoming the second Australian ever to do so.

She is the Earth is a novel-in-verse (however notably lacking a distinct plot and characters) inspired by landscape, natural elements, and ‘the healing power of Country.’ (Magabala Books) It narrates the process of healing and its inherent relationship with the permanence of trauma. 

If you’d like to read more about this one, I really enjoyed this article from The Conversation.


Feast by Emily O’Grady 

Emily O’Grady’s sophomore novel Feast is already raking in international recognition with a nomination for not only the Stella, but also the Dublin Literary Award. Feast looks at darkness, isolation, secrets and their exposures, familial relationships which are equal parts love and cruelty, and ‘the unmet needs of women’ (The Guardian).

In the Scottish mansion of a retired actress, Alison, and rock star, Patrick, we observe the complicated consequences of the appearance of a nearly-eighteen-year-old daughter and her mother, an ex-partner of Patrick’s. 

Feast centres on the women of the family, ‘connected by something far darker and thicker than blood’ (Readings), ‘and what happens when their darkest secrets are hauled into the light’ (Allen & Unwin).


Abandon Every Hope: Essays for the Dead by Hayley Singer 

‘Can anyone smell the suffering of souls? Of sadness, of hell on earth? Hell, I imagine, has a smell that bloats into infinity. Has a nasty sting of corpses. What was it Dante wrote?’ (Upswell Publishing)

Hayley Singer teaches creative writing at UniMelb, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that Singer’s debut essay collection is stylistically experimental and steeped in figurative language. Abandon Every Hope ‘map[s] the contours of a world cut to pieces by organised and profitable death’ (Upswell Publishing) — specifically, Singer centres on animal cruelty and the inhumanity of the slaughterhouse industry. 


The Hummingbird Effect by Kate Mildenhall 

Simultaneously historical, contemporary, and futuristic, The Hummingbird Effect follows four women dispersed through time, connected by ‘the mysterious Hummingbird Project, and the great question of whether the march of progress can ever be reversed’. One working in a meat factory during the Great Depression, another living in a retirement home during COVID, a third some sixty years in the future, and a fourth further still, ‘diving for remnants of a past that must be destroyed’ (Simon & Schuster).

The Hummingbird Effect grapples with climate change, artificial intelligence, and ‘the enduring power of female friendship.’ (The Guardian)


Body Friend by Katherine Brabon

Katherine Brabon’s previous two novels The Memory Artist (2016) and The Shut Ins (2021) have, between them, accumulated a pretty sizeable list of awards and nominations. These past wins include the 2016 The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award, the 2022 People’s Choice Award at the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, and the 2019 David Harold Tribe Fiction Award. 

It’s a shock to no one, then, that Body Friend is up for the Stella. This one looks at chronic pain, female relationships, and the distance between body and self.

‘Body Friend shows that pain can be a friend and a friend can be a mirror, but what they reflect is more than just a mirror image, and contains many possibilities.’ (Sydney Morning Herald)


The Swift Dark Tide by Katia Ariel 

‘What happens when, in the middle of a happy heterosexual marriage, a woman falls in love with another woman?’ (Gazebo Books) 

One of two memoirs longlisted, Katia Ariel’s The Swift Dark Tide is ‘a diary that doubled as a breathing exercise and tripled as a love letter.’ (Ariel) The Swift Dark Tide chronicles the author’s journey of self-discovery, interlaced with the stories of her husband, mother, and grandparents to create a ‘matrix’ (Ball, Compulsive Reader) of desire, heritage, selfhood, and family.


West Girls by Laura Elizabeth Woollett 

West Girls is interested primarily in beauty and race, in a way that feels like a more unhinged, more rooted in physicality, more innately feminine reconstruction of The Secret History’s ‘morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.’ The female body becomes something at once displaced from and deeply connected to the self. The body is the identity but also belongs to everyone outside of it. 

West Girls is interested in the modelling industry, racial inequality, cultural appropriation, the sexualisation of girls’ bodies, and the normalisation of sexual assault.

Our half-white, half-Maltese protagonist Luna Lewis, obsessed with beauty and a modelling career, presents herself as a ‘17-year-old Eurasian beauty, discovered while dismembering an octopus at a southern-suburbs fish-market’ in order to launch her career. This review from The Guardian talks about the act of yellowface in West Girls and looks at the thematic parallels with R.F. Kuang’s novel Yellowface, which was one of the most internationally popular releases of 2023.


Graft: Motherhood, Family and a Year on the Land by Maggie MacKellar

‘To attempt to sum up this book is to do a disservice to the delicate and finely woven lattice of narrative threads that comprise it, like reducing a glimmering spider web to its geometry.’ (Sydney Morning Herald)

A kind of hybridised memoir/nature writing number, Graft is a lyrical, ‘gorgeously written’ (Penguin) account of life spanning one year on a Tasmanian sheep farm. We see birth and death on the farm, interwoven with reflections on childhood and motherhood. Graft is a meditation on mothers, the land and what inhabits it, and home. 


Edenglassie by Melissa Lucashenko 

Melissa Lucashenko, winner of the 2019 Miles Franklin for her last novel Too Much Lip, is producing a not-insubstantial catalogue of fiction and non-fiction. The bookshop I work at generally has a significant chunk of shelf space occupied by her books (even better, they’re all being released in new, visually cohesive editions, which always makes my heart happy). Lucashenko writes predominantly literary and YA fiction, which are very sought-after in the shop.

Edenglassie ‘slices open Australia’s past and present’ (The Guardian), elucidating the dark, ongoing realities of colonisation by vacillating between and drawing together two narratives set in colonial and contemporary Meanjin country, Brisbane. 


Hospital by Sanya Rushdi

Hospital is about psychosis, mental illness in general, and the medical system. A research student is diagnosed with psychosis, and spends the book questioning her diagnosis and the medical system — ‘indeed questioning seems to be at the heart of her psychosis’ (Giramondo). Rushdi approaches time with skilful indifference, ‘braiding past and present’ (Westerly Magazine), and blends reality with ambiguity. The reader is left wondering where her episodes start and end in a state of constant disorientation.

At just 128 pages, Hospital is the shortest novel longlisted. First published in Bangladesh in 2019, it was translated into English and published in Australia for the first time last year.


The Anniversary by Stephanie Bishop

From the author of Man Out of Time (2018), The Singing (2005), and The Other Side of the World (2015) comes The Anniversary, a ‘compulsive, atmospheric’ (Hachette) psychological thriller which looks at gender, power, art, and the craft of writing.

When her filmmaker husband dies falling overboard on a cruise, novelist J.B. Blackwood navigates her past and her suddenly successful present, visiting and revisiting events and ideas with ‘increasing honesty and nuance.’ (New York Times)

To the New York Times, Bishop writes, ‘A lie told well should sound true. The Anniversary is about the lies we tell ourselves when the traumatic facts of our lives become unbearable and we need to twist them into a story we can stomach.’ 


This year’s lineup has pulled through with banger after absolute banger, and I’m hedging my bets by saying that it’s really, genuinely, anyone’s game. Every last one of these fits the criteria of ‘original, excellent, and engaging.’ If I had to make a guess, though, I can see Melissa Lucashenko’s Edenglassie coming out on top. It’s super relevant and thematically significant, and the way that it is selling and being received makes me think that it especially brings home the ‘engaging’ requirement. But I’ll leave it up to the infinitely more qualified panel of judges to do the judging, and follow along with bated breath.

Editor’s Note: Edenglassie didn’t even make it to the shortlist. Sorry Caelan. 

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