Above: Alexis Wright, centre, with Stella Prize judging panel, from left, editor and award-winning writer poet Ellen van Neerven; writer and critic James Ley; co-owner of award-winning bookshop Avid Reader, Fiona Stager (chair); and author Julie Koh. (Missing is writer, editor and publisher Louise Swinn.) Photo by Tomas O’Brien.
Author Alexis Wright has won the 2018 Stella Prize for her ground-breaking collective biography of Aboriginal leader, thinker and entrepreneur, Tracker Tilmouth.
The book is 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.
The Stella Prize, in its sixth year and with a purse of $50,000 (sponsored this year by National Australia Bank), celebrates Australian women’s contribution to literature.
Fiona Stager, Chair of the 2018 Stella judging panel, says of the winning book:
“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.”
Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. A former resident of Alice Springs, her work is well known here. Her books include Grog War, a study of alcohol abuse in Tennant Creek, which remains a compelling read, 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. Her work has been 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.
Wright was “totally amazed and shocked” to win the prize, while acknowledging the great honour bestowed on the book, Tracker (published by Giramondo).
“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.
“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.”
Man in a hurry, surrounded by people who were not