Alexis Wright wins 2018 Stella Prize for Tracker

Stella Prize 2018 Alexis Wright - photo by © Vincent L LongAlexis Wright has been awarded the 2018 Stella Prize for her remarkable biography of Aboriginal leader, thinker and entrepreneur, Tracker Tilmouth.

Tracker is a book uniquely written by weaving and layering first-person stories told about him as well as by him. It embeds Aboriginal traditions of oral and collective storytelling to create a new way of writing memoir – ‘giving many voices a part in the story’.

In announcing the $50,000 prize at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney last night, Chair of the 2018 judging panel, Fiona Stager said: “This extraordinary, majestic book has been composed by Wright from interviews with family, friends, foes and Tilmouth himself. It is one man’s story told by many voices, almost operatic in scale. With a tight narrative structure, compelling real-life characters, the book sings with insight and Tracker’s characteristic humour. Wright has crafted an epic that is a truly rewarding read.”

Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her books include Grog War, a study of alcohol abuse in Tennant Creek, and the novels Plains of Promise, The Swan Book and Carpentaria, which won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Victorian and Queensland Premiers’ Literary Awards, and the ALS Gold Medal, and was published in the US, UK, China, Italy, France, Spain and Poland. She is currently the Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne.

“I am totally amazed and shocked, but I deeply acknowledge the great honour that has been bestowed by the Stella Prize on my book Tracker,” said Wright. “I worked on this book because I felt that Australia needed to hear what Tracker had to say. It is important. It involves the future of Aboriginal people and our culture.”

“I want to express my gratitude to my friend Tracker Tilmouth, the great Eastern Arrernte man of Central Australia, and visionary leader in the Aboriginal world. I thought very deeply about how to develop this book about him by using our own storytelling principle of consensus, to give everyone the opportunity to tell their part in the story. I was not even sure if it would work as the manuscript of stories grew, but I pushed on for the six years it took to create Tracker.”

“All Australian writers and their readers should be grateful that the Stella Prize has created enormous opportunities for women writers. I thank the judges for ensuring that Tracker’s story will be heard and appreciated by many more people,” added Wright.

The Stella Prize is open to works of both fiction and nonfiction by Australian women. From more than 170 entries, this year’s judging panel – co-owner of award winning bookshop Avid Reader, Fiona Stager (chair); author Julie Koh; editor and award-winning writer and poet Ellen van Neerven; writer and critic James Ley, and writer, editor and publisher Louise Swinn – selected a longlist of twelve books, which they then narrowed down to a shortlist of six.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Wild Dingo Press), Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman (Hachette Australia), The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin), An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen (Text Publishing), The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe (Seizure), and Tracker by Alexis Wright (Giramondo)!

Each of the shortlistees received $3000 courtesy of the Ivy H Thomas and Arthur A Thomas Trust managed by Equity Trustees, and a three-week writing retreat supported by the Trawalla Foundation.

Named after one of Australia’s iconic female authors, Stella Maria ‘Miles’ Franklin, the prize has become an influential and much-loved feature of the Australian literary calendar. Celebrating Australian women’s contribution to literature, previous winners include: Carrie Tiffany – Mateship with Birds (2013), Clare Wright – Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (2014), Emily Bitto – The Strays (2015), Charlotte Wood – The Natural Way of Things (2016), and Heather Rose – The Museum of Modern Love (2017).

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Image: Alexis Wright – photo by © Vincent L Long