Stella strives for a community where the power and influence of writing and stories are not limited by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, disability or age. We believe that Australian women’s writing and stories play a powerful role in shaping our national values and beliefs, enriching the landscape of ideas in our democracy and empowering more people to contribute their hopes and experiences. Yet, global and Australian evidence shows that women’s voices continue to be marginalised in media, publishing and the arts, as well as more broadly in our culture. Book reviews introduce new readers to established authors and bring up-and-coming writers to the attention of booklovers. As a major driver of book sales, reviews are vital in the promotion and recognition of Australian women writers.
The annual Stella Count surveys 12 key Australian publications that review books, examining gender bias in authors, reviewers and literary genres. This data is an essential component of Stella’s evidence-based advocacy for Australian women writers. Since 2012, the Stella Count has profoundly influenced changes in reviewing practices and created a public accountability mechanism. Reviews of books written by women have increased from 40% of all reviews in 2012 to 49% in 2018, suggesting that the act of counting actively shifts the gender balance of literary journalism. However, progress is not linear; without constant attention, gender balance can be lost in the major publications.
The annual Stella Count continues to play a vital role in Stella's ability to advocate for Australian women writers in the future. The feedback loop in play – whereby women receive few book reviews and miss out on major literary prizes making them much less likely to be included on school curriculum – can be broken. We know from our success to date that the very act of counting makes a difference; as former Prime Minster Julia Gillard said during her 2020 Stella Prize keynote lecture, “what we choose to count matters”.
Even before the COVID19 crisis, 2020 was shaping to be a pivotal year of change in publishing. Disproportionate cuts in Australia Council for the Arts grants to literary publications and swinging budget cuts within commercial publications will inevitably reduce in reviewer diversity, which is unlikely to be adequately addressed by the growth in online blogs and reviews. If, as we expect, the 2019 Count confirms that book reviewing has maintained its hard-won position of (close to) gender parity, the 8 years of uninterrupted data will provide a solid benchmark against which to measure the impacts of COVID19 on our sector in 2020. It will also act as the foundation for a revised focus for future Counts, to ensure that their relevance to contemporary publishing methods and trends.
The Stella Count is published on the Stella website. The results are promoted by our key academic partners from Monash University and the Australian National University, as well as Stella's own publicists. Annual results of the Stella count are covered in a range of media outlets focused on both the books and publishing sector, as well as wider arts and cultural coverage.
Stella is a voice for gender equality and cultural change in Australian literature. Stella drives significant cultural change by elevating the work of Australian women writers. We promote greater access to, and participation in, the world of books and writing to combat gender bias in society. Founded in 2012, the organisation’s flagship program is the annual Stella Prize – a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing. Stella seeks to influence the national conversation around gender equality in Australian literature through our ongoing research and advocacy work, and schools and education programs.