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Stella Sparks: writers reflect on inspiring books by Australian women

Read Sunday, 24 Jan 2016

The Stella Sparks campaign encourages readers to share the book that sparked their love of Australian women’s writing. So, which books by Australian women have inspired, provoked and moved other authorsSome of Australia’s most celebrated contemporary writers – from Anna Krien to Anna Funder, Omar Musa, Anita HeissCate Kennedy and more – share their Sparks.

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Ellen van Neerven:

‘Lisa Bellear’s Dreaming in Urban Areas is the spark that showed me the power of the written word in voicing the struggle for Aboriginal women. We are here and we will not settle for less.’

Ellen van Neerven is a Yugambeh woman from South-East Queensland, and author of Heat and Light.


Anna Krien:

‘Reading Robin Klein’s People Might Hear You when I was eleven years old didn’t provide a spark so much as it ignited me entirely – not necessarily to be a writer as to be haunted by stories and disappear into worlds that were both real and foreign. Klein was an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary woman. She also gave me a copper enamelled lizard brooch when I was a kid which made me feel like the richest girl in the world.’

Anna Krien is the the author of Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport.


Omar Musa:

‘Dorothy Hewett’s words and personality loom large over my childhood. She was a good friend of my mother and gave her the timeless advice ‘Helen, never fuck a poet.’ Of course, it was too late, because my mother had already met my poet father and given birth to me. Hewett’s poetry and plays are full of a rambunctious humanism that I find incredibly alluring. I have turned to her words many times when seeking inspiration because there is a clarity of thought and a depth of feeling that always gets me going. May all of us continue to spit ‘pips in the eyes of the mythmakers.’

– Omar Musa is a Malaysian-Australian rapper and poet. His first book is Here Come the Dogs.

Monica Dux:

‘When I was in my early twenties I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to read Miles Franklin’s papers, including her diaries, at the Mitchell Library in Sydney. I read My Brilliant Career at the same time. It’s a gorgeous novel bursting with youthful talent, and reading it in tandem with her diaries and papers made a huge impression on me. It was the first time I became aware of the richness of an Australian women’s literary tradition, a tradition that had been obscured by the male canon that dominated my youth.’

– Monica Dux is the author of Things I Didn’t Expect (when I was expecting).


Maxine Beneba Clarke:

‘Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Little Bit Long Time wound its way around my heart, squeezed in and would not lose grip. It reaffirmed the singular and almighty power words have in capturing and conveying heart and home; motherhood and mourning; loss and love.’

– Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian writer and slam poet of Afro-Caribbean heritage, and the author of Foreign Soil.


Anna Funder:

‘I read Tirra Lirra by the River at school 30 years ago. Its effect on my life has been profound: I cannot remember a ‘self’ before this book was part of it. It describes the struggle of a woman in the early 20th century to have both a personal life and an artistic one and every time I reread it – in time bought from a babysitter, bargained from my husband and stolen from my children – I wonder: What is the price to be paid for straining at the socially acceptable edges of happiness? A novel – this novel – might show you.’

– Anna Funder is the author of Stasiland.

Cate Kennedy:

‘Barbara Hanrahan’s The Scent of Eucalyptus was a book I picked up by chance in my late teens which gave me a ‘wake up!’ smack to the head.  Hanrahan was an artist as well as a writer, and her visually precise, dreamlike prose as well as the intensely-lived yet ordinary life she described growing up in Adelaide suburbia felt shockingly recognisable and real. Her voice, so arresting and evocative, was like a star to steer by.’

 Cate Kennedy is an award-winning short-story writer and the author of the novel The World Beneath.

Anita Heiss:

‘The Poetry collection We Are Going by Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal) is my Stella Spark. Her ‘Aboriginal Charter of Rights’, first published in 1964, still inspires me to write today.’

Anita Heiss is member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales and is the author of Am I Black Enough for You?

Justine Larbalestier:

‘My Stella Spark is a recent read: Ambelin Kwaymullina’s The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, which reminded me that even the most overworked genres, like post-apocalyptic dystopias, can be made fresh again, and that all literature is also about now. Kwaymullina’s destroyed Australia of 300 years hence has much in common with today’s, including systemic discrimination and detention centres. A rich, dense read.’

– Justine Larbalestier is the author of My Sister Rosa and Razorhurst.


Yassmin Abdel-Magied:

‘My Stella Spark arrived quietly and without fanfare through a book I was assigned to reading at school – Peeling the Onion by Wendy Orr.  It was the first time I was aware of my humanity.  As a teenager the thought of losing everything that I tied to my identity was terrifying… but also a wake-up call, reminding myself to constantly be grateful for every moment…’

– Yassmin Abdel-Magied is the founder chair of Youth Without Borders.


Stella Sparks is an initiative of the Stella Prize. On TwitterInstagram and Facebook, use the #StellaSpark hashtag to share your own personal reflections on the works by Australian women that have moved you.

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