At The Bar with Fiona Sweet – CEO of The Stella Prize

From Linda McCartney’s first major Australian retrospective to American actor, comedian and artist David La Chapelle’s photographic works, Fiona Sweet has brought some of the biggest names to the regional Victorian town of Ballarat where she was Director of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale until her departure in 2021.

These days she’s the CEO of The Stella Prize – a literary award for women now in its 12th year. With a prize pool of $60,000 up for grabs, Sweet is also behind a new concept to lure younger readers and entrants to a free day-long event called Stella Day Out; to promote women and non-binary writers to Australian literature.

The Stella Prize itself was set up as a direct response to the Miles Franklin Award [in case you didn’t know that’s Stella Miles Franklin thanks]. There were no females shortlisted for the prestigious literary prize in Australia when a group of six feminist literati decided to create The Stella Prize as a directed response to a gender inequality they saw.

This year’s Stella Prize was awarded to Alexis Wright for Praiseworthy.

“The prize is a fantastic opportunity for female writers,” says Fiona Sweet.

“I am all about how do we engage with readers and the 144 books that have been long listed, shortlisted or won a Stella Prize? How do we bring these writers back and continue to support them into the future,” she says.

“And how do we support readers to engage with women writers and hear their stories. Women write differently to men, and they need to be heard,” she said.

Fiona Sweet talks to us for our At The Bar series at The Write Drop.

MY CITY

I and born and bred in Melbourne. I moved for six years when I was based in Ballarat as Director of the Ballarat Foto Biennale from 2016-2021. Melbourne is one of the best cities in the world. We have a plethora of culture – theatres, music theatres, live music, best book shops in Australia and easy access to everything through our public transport. We have enough green spaces for fresh air in a big city, and beautiful spots to sit and read under a tree. Elsternwick Park now has a native garden; Treasury Gardens is also another favourite and now I have been spending time at Flagstaff Gardens – it’s well frequented and I love it.

FAVOURITE FOOD MEMORY

It’s a coffee at Mr Tulk at the State Library – everybody in there is reading something; a book or a newspaper. I also love Pellegrini’s. I first discovered it as a teenager when I worked across the road from it in a clothes store; that was the first time I had a real coffee – a double espresso. It was so strong and so bitter and didn’t know what to do as a 17-year-old. Now I sit either out the back on a high stool, and watch everyone through the mirrors as I eat. I also enjoy Ciccolina – a go-to restaurant in St Kilda. If in the city, I go to The Europeanon Spring St, simple delicious food and not pretentious. Mario’s on Brunswick St, Fitzroy is gorgeous too for a coffee or a spaghetti pasta.

FAVOURITE BAR

The City Wine Shop on Spring Street is a regular. I also like the Moat – at the State Library. As you come down the stairs and walk in, you can smell the food that’s cooking. I enjoy a beautiful glass of wine there or a meal. The Prince Wine Bar in St Kilda is also another spot I love for a glass of wine. There are walls of wine, salumi and cheese are divine.

DRINK OF CHOICE

I am a solid heavy shiraz drinker – that’s probably a favourite. I always go for SA Shiraz or a Tasmanian Pinot Noir. If I am at a party, I am drinking bubbles.

 

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