Looking back on her long and successful writing career, Alexis Wright says she remembers “working hard, and constantly, and thinking deeply”.
The efforts are continuing to pay off, with Wright just named the 2018 Stella Award winner for her non-fiction book Tracker. The $50,000 prize follows Wright’s 2006 Miles Franklin Award for her novel, Carpentaria.
She says that through all the hard work, she pushed through the ups and downs of writing large manuscripts by always holding on to the belief that she’d made the right decisions regarding how to write and construct books.
Tracker is a collective memoir of political thinker and entrepreneur Tracker Tilmouth, who worked tirelessly for Aboriginal self-determination. A charismatic leader, he personally never wrote anything down. As such, Wright relied on oral interviews and the Aboriginal storytelling principle of consensus in order to write the book, and in the process reveals the powerful role of storytelling in contemporary Aboriginal life.
‘This book will incredibly enrich the understanding of readers’ says the judging panel as Alexis Wright announced winner of 2018 @TheStellaPrize for “Tracker”, honouring visionary Aboriginal Leader Tracker Tilmouth #Stella18 pic.twitter.com/c8saiBttmk
— Elizabeth Shaw (@Beth_Shaw_) April 12, 2018
Wright published her first book Plains of Promise in 1997, followed by Carpentaria in 2006 and The Swan Book in 2013. Tracker is her third non-fiction book, following Grow War and Croire en L’incroyable. (Believing the Unbelievable) in 2000.
We caught up with Wright just after she’d been short-listed for the award, to learn more about her writing career, as well as what she’s learnt along the way.
How would you describe your Stella Short-listed book?
Tracker is a departure from my recent fictional work of Carpentaria and The Swan Book, and created the book as a collective memoir of a remarkable man. I had to create a different form in this work to capture the scope of his personality, his work, and the world he operated in. I thought very deeply about how to develop this book about him by using our own Aboriginal storytelling principle of consensus. I wanted Tracker to be a book for our times and from our place in the world.
What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?
I hold the position as the Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature with the University of Melbourne and in collaboration with the State Library of Victoria. I am very excited to have this important opportunity to speak about our literature, and to promote the great diversity and internationalism we now see in Australian literature. We are maturing as people of great diversity, and this is what is making our literature truly marvellous, exciting, relevant, and stronger then it has ever been. I am also finalising a new novel titled Praiseworthy, and I have been very excited about all the elements I have explored in this book. And I am also enjoying the research I am undertaking for the novel that I will write after Praiseworthy is finalised.
What one issue is making your really angry right now?
There are many issues that I can be angry about. What I try to do is not get angry, but try to write the best books I can about the things that I care about.
Best piece of career advice you ever received?
The great Carlos Fuentes once said of Mexico that all times are important, and no time has ever been resolved. This was great advice to me to explore our culture of all times in literature.
The great Aboriginal thinker Gary Foley once said about academia, to go in and demystify the process, and then use it for our advantage.
Another great man Patrick Dodson, once told one of our large meetings, if you think you are a sovereign people, than act like it.
Another piece of best career advice came from the great editor Bruce Sims who once said to me soon after Carpentaria was published when I was worried about the book that, Alexis, it is what it is. Very good advice.
My great friend Tracker Tilmouth also gave good advice about how to enjoy yourself no matter what you do. He said, You got to have fun Wrighty.
What would you go back and tell yourself ten years ago?
The person I was ten years ago was working hard, and possibly more fun-loving, and more determined then I am today. I would probably say thank you.
How did you kickstart your writing career?
I can only remember working hard, and constantly, and thinking deeply. I held on to my belief that I had made the right decision in how to write and construct books through the doubts, and the ups and downs of writing very large manuscripts over several years.
Biggest hurdle you’ve faced (or are still facing) in your career?
Each book is a challenge, but writers like the challenge of working with ideas, and constructing worlds through their imagination.
How do you work through it?
I think the challenge is not to be worked around, but to be worked on and pushed through.
How have mentors or sponsors (or both) aided your career?
There have been many people who have helped me in my career. I have been very lucky. My publisher, Ivor Indyk of Giramondo Publishing is an exceptional man who has helped the careers of many writers such as myself.
What’s your favourite piece of tech?
My computer. I also very much like the mini blue tooth radio with a great sound that I found recently in Shanghai’s book street, Fuzhou Road.
What daily publications do you read or follow?
The Age. The Weekend Australian. Indigenous X. Koori News. The Guardian. Asian newspapers.
Where and when do you write?
I mostly write in my study at home. I also write in my work office. I write in the garden. The Dome Reading Room at the State Library in Victoria. I continually write in my head so I believe I can write anywhere.
What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?
My current reading is far too broad to cover here because apart from reading for leisure, I also read continuously for research. I have an eclectic ear for music. I listen to almost everything. I have many favourite Aboriginal musicians.
I love musicians like Bob Dylan of course, but I always have classical music on the radio in the house. I love classical Indian and Chinese music, and what I am listening to right now is Mongolian music given to me recently in Inner Mongolia. I like the idea in their culture of singing songs about the land and much else, when families get together.
Where can people find out more about your work?
At my publisher’s website.