In March, we put out a call for readers to become our 2017 Stella experts. We were looking for two (but it became three) people to read all six books on the Stella Prize shortlist and to predict the winner. Essentially, we provided them with the books, and they did the hard yards of reading and reviewing for us.
The Stella shortlist
in 2017 featured six incredible books written by six incredible women who are all deserving of winning, and we don’t envy the task of our Stella experts to pick the one book they think will win.
Before we get into their reviews, we’d like to thank our three Stella experts. The Stella Prize celebrates the writing of Australian women, and we don’t find it hard at all to imagine all three of our experts ending up on a Stella Prize shortlist of their own in the future.
Without further ado, let’s hear from our three Stella experts…
Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen
Out of all the books shortlisted for the Stella Prize, none felt more important
to me than The Hate Race
. Maxine Beneba Clarke writes lyrically and fearlessly about the experiences of growing up black in white Australia, and as a second-generation kid myself, growing up in the same area of Sydney, I felt the sting of familiarity in so many of her words. But the book also opened my eyes to experiences that I can never personally understand, as so much of it is tied specifically to blackness, and how it is perceived and received in a country with so much racist history.
Clarke has beautifully blended memoir with narrative and aspects of slam poetry to write a book that is completely unique, and a must-read for everyone, but especially white people – it’s a small window into what it feels like to be ostracised because of who you are, and how that takes its effect on children and adults alike. Especially in this time of abject terror in which we live – a time where asylum seeker issues are at the forefront, and bigots hold the ultimate positions of power worldwide – Clarke is a sorely needed voice, providing both insight and hope. It doesn’t always have to be this way, but we must acknowledge the way it has been for so long. We can only hope that one day, The Hate Race
will not be as relatable as it currently is.
The publishing landscape in Australia unfortunately remains largely white, and in the Stella’s short history, a woman of colour has never won the prize. It’s high time that changed, and no book is more worthy this year than The Hate Race
. It is bold and brave, a statement of what it means to live as a person of colour in Australia. 'Here I am,' it says. 'Here we all are.'
We live in a world with conflicting (to put it mildly) ideas about social responsibility, identity, and oppression. It only takes a cursory glance at what’s happening in Trump’s America to see the great divide between those who have always enjoyed a level of privilege, and those who have suffered because of it.
Two books in this year’s Stella shortlist address this head-on. There is no apology in The Hate Race
or An Isolated Incident
, nor should there be. Each offers a pained insight into the reality of being part of a marginalised group.
In An Isolated Incident
, Emily Maguire takes the all too common experience of violence against women, and normalises it: it happens in small towns, it happens to sisters, it happens in insidious ways that aren’t always easy to recognise. She does so with subtlety and cynicism and wisdom, offering a relatable - and often frightening - story most women will understand.
But The Hate Race
is something extra. It’s a manifesto, of sorts. It’s ferocious, furious, aggressive, exhausted. Maxine Beneba Clarke uses her slam poetry voice to bring down a barrage of truth about blackness. Where An Isolated Incident
spoke to my own experience as a woman, The Hate Race
challenged me, forced me to face myself, required me to shut up and listen.
This is not the only reason it should win. Besides being a crucial - even compulsory - text, The Hate Race
is beautifully written. Clarke is a natural storyteller, and her words have the cadence of being spoken aloud. Her book is both deeply confronting and hugely accessible; that’s a combination that can truly change the way people think, and exactly what makes it so necessary.
Every year The Stella Prize celebrates Australian women’s writing, and this year is no exception. However, in this year’s shortlist, one book had stood out for me from the beginning – The Hate Race
, by Maxine Beneba Clarke. In an industry where women of colour (or culturally and linguistically diverse women) are still severely underrepresented, The Hate Race
’s inclusion in The Stella Prize’s shortlist is a welcome sight.
The Hate Race
tackles issues of race in suburban Australia in an honest, unapologetic manner, and is also written in a way that is accessible for people of all ages. Clarke does not shy away from offensive and problematic language, as this is the type of language and behaviour experienced by many on a daily basis. And even though it is her personal memoir, filled with stories from her own life, there will be sections of the book that will resonate strongly with its Australian audience.
Clarke also explores the impacts of colonialism on Australia, and its impacts not only on her but also on this country’s Indigenous peoples. This history – our collective history, is inescapable, and is something all Australians have to accept. So, then, I believe The Hate Race
is essential reading, most of all for those who claim they still “don’t understand racism”, for those who think immigrants to Australia should assimilate, for those who do not support the resettling of refugees in this country. It is essential reading for young adults, so they can begin to cultivate empathy for those around them who may not look or sound like “a typical Australian”.
I hope there will come a time when we do not see writers of colour as an extension of their experiences, or vice versa. I hope that someday we will be able to step out of our boxes and just be writers
. Until that becomes a reality, we have books like The Hate Race,
which are stepping stones towards such a future.