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‘Perhaps the great Australian novel’: Alexis Wright wins the Stella award for the second time with Praiseworthy | wake award

Alexis Wright has made history by becoming the first person to win the Stella Prize for Literature twice.

On Thursday night, the Waanyi writer, 73, collected the $60,000 prize, awarded for outstanding writing by Australian women and non-binary authors, for her fourth novel Praiseworthy, a book of epic scale praised by the judges as “gender-bending.” ” and “break the canon.”

Wright also won the Stella in 2018 for Tracker, her collective non-fiction memoir about Indigenous leader and activist Tracker Tilmouth. Wright worked on Tracker and Praiseworthy simultaneously, with the latter 736-page novel taking nearly a decade to complete.

Wright said Praiseworthy was a product of his time.

“We need large-scale literary works right now, because of the urgency of what is happening,” he said, referring to the novel’s exploration of the climate crisis and how it affects the “decaying life of poverty” within the fiction and former prize. -Praiseworthy’s orderly winning town, imagined in the Carpentaria region of northern Australia.

“We need to think deeply about these issues and we can’t just sit back and hope that everything is going to be okay,” he said. “My thought in developing this book is that many people continue to tell Aboriginal people that we should have hope. But I don’t think it’s hope that will take us very far.

“When you look back at our survival here, as the oldest living culture, I don’t think our people survived all those thousands of years by sitting on hope. “There is a very strong desire to survive and to take our culture into the future.”

Praiseworthy’s central protagonist, Cause Man Steel, is a local entrepreneur who dreams of becoming Australia’s first indigenous billionaire. After an ominous haze descends on the city, Cause imagines a post-fossil fuel world where alternative forms of transportation will be needed to move Australians across the massive continent. He dreams of harnessing one element of the detritus of colonization – the 5 million wild donkeys in remote Australia – to prepare for a carbon-neutral future.

Meanwhile, his eight-year-old son, Tommyhawk, is immersed in the Internet and becomes increasingly paranoid for his safety as he consumes media reports of child sexual predation in remote communities like his.

It is Wright’s personal confrontation with the Howard government’s 2007 Northern Territory National Emergency Response, a controversial range of policies also known as The Intervention. Wright calls it “a step backwards” and a “tragedy,” adding that with global warming affecting remote communities surviving in some of the world’s hottest and driest environments, “we now have a much harder job. “and we haven’t done it yet.” “I have a lot of control over what happens here.”

The Stella Award judges praised Wright’s voice in Praiseworthy as “operatic” in its intensity.

“Wright’s use of language and imagery is poetic and expansive, creating an immersive noir multiverse,” the judges’ statement read. “Readers will be uplifted by Praiseworthy’s aesthetic and technical quality and breathless by the tempestuous pace of Wright’s political satire.”

Reviewed by The New York Times in February, Praiseworthy was hailed as “the most ambitious and accomplished Australian novel of this century,” an assessment with which Stella jury chair Beejay Silcox agrees.

“Laudable is not only a great Australian novel – perhaps the great Australian novel – but also a great Waanyi novel,” Silcox said in his statement.

“And it is written in the crazy hope that, one day, all Australian readers will be able to understand what that means. I don’t understand. Not yet. But I can feel the story calling to me in these pages. Calling all of us. Imagine if we listened.”

In September, Praiseworthy won the University of Queensland Fiction Book Award. He has also been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Prize for a Work of State Significance, the prestigious €100,000 Dublin International Literary Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the UK’s oldest literature prize.

Wright said that a lifetime studying literature from around the world allowed him to understand how “I could write the book that I wanted to write”; a book that incorporates 60,000 years of storytelling and unwavering scrutiny of contemporary reality; a book whose “vision is dark, pitch-black humour, irrepressible narrative, turbulent and rococo language”, according to The Guardian critic Declan Fry.

“It has an Aboriginal consciousness, but it has a global literary consciousness,” Wright said.

“Commendable has been developed through really deep reflection and hard work over a long period of time, with many, many false starts and reworking and reworking, until I am absolutely certain that every page, every part of that book stands firm and will not do it. fall down.

“And that’s what I hoped to achieve… broaden the literary landscape here, produce work suitable for our times here in this country and suitable for the times around the world.”