Book review

2023 Stella Prize longlist

I’m on the other side of the country (Melbourne, which is a 4hr plane trip away) for a few days to help my sister celebrate a special birthday. When I was booking my trip I was excited to see it coincided with the Stella Prize longlist announcement, so I bought a pair of tickets and invited my teenage niece to come along.

(My niece has become an avid reader in the past couple of years and our tastes are remarkably similar despite us never having talked about books before.)

That announcement was last night. It was held at the Wheeler Centre, opposite the State Library, in the CBD.

After an introductory speech by the Executive Director of Stella, Jaclyn Booton, the Chair of judges, Alice Pung, wasted no time in announcing the 12 books on the longlist, a mix of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She then invited the panel of judges — Astrid Edwards, Beejay Silcox, Jeff Sparrow and Alison Whittaker — to join her on stage to discuss the books in more detail.

Each judge took it in turns to champion a book — their passion and excitement about each title really shone through, making me (and I’m sure everyone else in the audience) itching to read them.

The list (see below) is an excellent one. The past couple of years I felt the Stella had lost its way, trying to be all things to all people, and I abandoned the notion of reading the shortlist as I had done in previous years. But this year’s longlist seems genuinely exciting.

I liked that judge Beejay Wilcox said these were books that offered the thrill of the unknown — in other words, they weren’t predictable and often wrong footed the reader. These are the qualities I, too, look for in books. I like them to shun the tropes and try new ways of telling a story, either through structure, plot or both and they get extra bonus points if they do exciting things with voice.

Anyway, here’s the list in full in alphabetical order by author’s surname — note that the hyperlinks take you to the book’s entry on the Stella website:

Interestingly, I’m about quarter-way through Iris, so I’m delighted to see that on the list, and I have We Come With this Place and Hydra in my TBR already.

After the discussion about the individual titles, the panel of judges talked a little about the judging process and why they were excited by the list as a whole. It was pointed out that most titles on the list are by small independent presses, which are more inclined to publish off-the-wall or “risky” books.

And the judges were very frank, claiming that of the 200+ books submitted for consideration some of them were just plain terrible and maybe shouldn’t have been published at all!

But readers shouldn’t worry that the books that made the cut were judged by their covers or their look, feel and heft: all titles were read on e-readers to reinforce the idea that it was the text, and the text alone, being judged.

Will I read the entire longlist? Probably not, but I’m going to give the shortlist a red hot go after it is announced on 30 March.

The winner of the $60,000 will be named on 27 April.

You can watch a video of the announcement here:

17 thoughts on “2023 Stella Prize longlist”

  1. I saw the list on Lisa’s blog and thought that for the first time I have heard of very few of the books, which discombobulated me a little, as I always enjoy their list. I had heard of Iris and am interested in that.

    Anyhow, I greatly enjoyed reading your report on actually attending. What fun to have been there.


    1. I love it when there are unfamiliar books on the list because it invites you to discover new things. Of course, it’s always good when there’s some familiar titles too… particularly if you have read them. But I haven’t read any off the list.

      And yes, it was a fun evening. I got to catch up with a friend who’s from Melbourne and worked in London at the same time as me and is now repatriated with her small family.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. O wouldn’t we love to know about those terrible books!
    Because, you know, there’s a whole discussion thing out there in the zeitgeist about how hard authors work on their books and it’s mean to criticise them, and if you can’t say anything nice etc etc…
    Yet here are some judges telling it like it is. There are indeed some books which are just plain terrible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, wouldn’t it be fab. I really wanted them to open it up to audience questions because that’s the first thing I would have asked but I’m sure they would have been diplomatic and not named any. I really like Alice Pung… I get the impression she’s a straight shooter and is prepared to make the judging exercise more transparent.


  3. I have none of these books on my TBR atm so given I’m trying very hard not to acquire anything new, I will have to enjoy the Stella vicariously through the rest of you who do have some of the books to hand.

    I am keen on the speculative fiction title though, given Bill’s Gen 5 week this year.


    1. The spec fiction one does sound good. That’s the title my niece bought. I would borrow it from her except she lives in Melbourne and I’m in Perth, so if it gets shortlisted I’ll have to buy my own copy.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect most haven’t been published abroad, especially if they are by small presses with no international distribution networks. I live here with full access and I haven’t read a single one, so I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting idea, to have the judges read the e-books. Looking at this list is looking into the future for me because one of the leading lights in my book club is from Tasmania and about once a year for the past couple of years we’ve read an Australian prize winner of some sort. So one of these books may be in my future.


    1. That’s good to hear. So few books ever get to be published outside of Australia but a prize winner has more chance of attracting a wider audience and therefore provides a publisher with some degree of comfort that the book would be a success in international (UK/US) markets.


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