With the Stella Prize announcement on Tuesday April 9th, the first title on our recommended reading list for April is The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie. Excitingly, we also saw the release of Mary Hoban’s book, the biography An Unconventional Wife: the life of Julia Sorell Arnold. Mary was the inaugural winner of the Hazel Rowley Fellowship Prize and it’s wonderful to watch her succeed. We also asked Australian Communities Foundation’s skilled and experienced social policy analyst and consultant, Trudy Wyse, for her recommendation! Enjoy!

If you’re yet to read last year’s Stella Prize winner, Tracker by Alexis Wright, we strongly recommend picking it up.

Biography of Indigenous activist Tracker Tilmouth from the Miles Franklin award-winning novelist is a testament to the power of collective storytelling.

Tracker is Alexis Wright’s first work of nonfiction since 1997’s Grog War, her investigation of how the Indigenous community of Tennant Creek dealt with the effects of alcohol, and it focuses on similar themes of Aboriginal self-determination and community-based responses to issues that stem from entrenched inequality. It also represents a significant departure from the writing that made her Miles Franklin award-winning novel Carpentaria (2006) so successful, and positioned Wright as the foremost writer of the Australian landscape. Tracker is completely different in form: absent is Wright’s mastery of evocative language; in its place is a story told in the words of others.

– The Guardian

erratics stella prize

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie (Stella Prize winner 2019)

Published by Finch Publishing Sydney

When her elderly mother is hospitalised unexpectedly, Vicki travels to her parents’ isolated ranch home in Alberta, Canada, to help her father. She has been estranged from her parents for many years and is horrified by what she discovers on her arrival.

‘Despite the dark subject matter, this book has a smile at its core, and Laveau-Harvie shows constant wit when depicting some harrowing times. The narrator somehow manages to see all viewpoints, and we are rewarded with an evocative and expansive view of a family that has more than its fair share of dysfunction. The writing throughout is of a consistently high standard and we were constantly delighted by this surprise of a book,’ said judging panel chair Louise Swinn.

In her acceptance speech, Laveau-Harvie spoke humbly and gratefully, saying:

I have felt honoured to be one of the twelve long-listed authors, and then one of the six on the shortlist for the Stella Prize. I am proud to be in their company, and to be here tonight with these women whose books are beautiful, confronting, ground-breaking, timely, essential, books that leave your world better than it was before you read them.

This prize rewards women who write truth – historical, political, and the truth of the heart and the soul: the truth of individuals, of each of us, and the truth of the world we live in.


Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas (Trudy Wyse’s recommendation)

Published by PenguinRandomHouse

Giridharadas was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times for ten years and teaches journalism at New York University.

This is a fascinating, challenging and highly readable book which explores the so-called ‘social change philanthropy’ of the wealthy elite in society, many of whom have made their fortunes in highly unjust and exploitative ways.  He argues that the rich and powerful  claim to be fighting for equality and justice in any way they can  – and will do so except in ways that threaten the social order and their place at the top of it. He asks questions such as “Should the world’s gravest problems be solved by unelected elites rather than the public institutions they erode by lobbying and tax dodges?’’ or “How do those who commit injustice to make their wealth – like the founders of the pharmaceutical company, the Sacklers, who helped seed the opioid crisis through aggressive marketing of Oxycontin to doctors – use generosity to cover it up?”

The main thesis of the book is summed up in the quote at the beginning of the book by Leo Tolstoy: I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible …except by getting off his back.

Giridharadas’ conclusion is that rather than relying on scraps from the winners we must create more robust, egalitarian institutions – real change does not come from the top down, it has to come from the bottom up.

This book is a must read and reality check for all of us involved in philanthropy and social change.


The Unconventional Wife: the life of Julia Sorell Arnold by Mary Hoban (inaugural winner of the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship)

unconventional wife mary hoban

Published by Scribe Publications

The page-turning biography of an Australian woman who refused to bend to the expectations of her husband and her time.

This compelling and moving book reanimates the lost life of Julia Sorell Arnold, a spirited, independent woman in an age when women were expected to be quiet. With deep insight and empathy Hoban brings to life Julia and Tom’s troublesome marriage. Their passionate but fractious relationship speaks directly to the irascible relations between women and men in our own divisive times. This book is a remarkable achievement by an expert and gifted biographer.

Hoban gave great credit to the fellowship for giving her “vital affirmation at the beginning, but also (it) created for me a moral obligation to see the project through”.

The Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship supports Australian writers of biography, and extends to include a writer who is working on an aspect of cultural or social history. In 2018, the Fellowship was awarded to Jacqueline Kent (NSW) for her proposed biography of Vida Goldstein (1869-1949). The judges also awarded a Special Hazel Rowley Award of $15,000 to Drusilla Modjeska (NSW) for her proposed memoir, ‘First Half Second: Volume 2’. In 2017, the Fellowship was awarded to Anne-Marie Priest (QLD) biography of Australian poet Gwen Harwood (1920-1995). For the first time, the Fellowship also made a highly-commended award of $3,000 to Suzanne Spunner (Vic) for her biography of East Kimberley artist Rover Thomas.


For the entire Stella Prize long and short lists, which includes its youngest ever finalist as well as Maria Tumarkin and Jenny Ackland, go to The Stella Prize website.