The Stella Count Survey

In its inaugural year, the Stella Count Survey received 59 responses from Australian women writers who were reviewed throughout 2015 by one or more of the publications that were counted. You can view the survey as it was distributed here.

The 2015 Stella Count included 370 Australian women writers. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate contact information for every writer; and of those who were contacted, not all responded.

While the number of responses is too small for us to draw any firm inferences or conclusions, we consider this to be a positive response rate overall for the first year of the Stella Count Survey. This is only the initial step and we hope to improve on the response rate in years to come. We welcome all comments or suggestions from writers and members of the community on how the survey can be improved in future years – you can contact us here. As more authors respond to the survey, our data will become more comprehensive and instructive.

We thank each of the writers who responded for their time and generosity.

Results

All questions on the Stella Count Survey were optional, which accounts for slight differences in response numbers between some questions. Respondents could also select more than one answer for the gender, sexuality and race/ethnicity questions.

Gender – Total responses: 58

58 survey respondents identified as women, with no other gender identities selected.

Sexuality – Total responses: 56 

48 respondents identified as heterosexual.
6 identified as queer.
1 identified as homosexual.
1 identified as bisexual.

Race/Ethnicity – Total responses: 56

38 described their race/ethnicity as English/Irish/Scottish.
6 described their race/ethnicity as German.
3 described their race/ethnicity as Greek.
3 described their race/ethnicity as Jewish.
2 described their race/ethnicity as Chinese.
2 described their race/ethnicity as Sri Lankan.
1 described their race/ethnicity as Croatian.
1 described their race/ethnicity as North American.
1 described their race/ethnicity as Polish.
1 described their race/ethnicity as Ukrainian.
1 described their race/ethnicity as Slovenian.
16 respondents described themselves as a race or ethnicity other than those listed, and had the option of specifying further if they wished; of those who specified, the most frequent answer given was ‘Australian’.

Disability – Total responses: 57

53 respondents did not identify as a person with disability.
4 respondents identified as a person with disability. 

About the Survey

Australian women and gender diverse writers who were reviewed by a Stella Count publication in 2015 were eligible to participate in the 2015 Stella Count Survey. The invitation was sent to all those writers we could locate email addresses for; those who did not receive this invitation were encouraged to contact us directly in order to take part in the survey. Learn more about the framework and rationale behind the survey here.

You can also find out more about the process of creating the survey from those involved in its formation. Below you’ll find reflections on the survey from Stella Count Survey coordinator Natalie Kon-yu and Stella Count Survey consultative committee member Yvette Walker. You can also read a longer essay discussing ideas about gender, identity and literature from Stella Count Survey consultative committee member Jasmeet Sahi, on our blog.

Reflection from Natalie Kon-yu

I became involved in the Stella Count this year because I am interested in the reception of work by women writers, and because Stella’s mission – to point out the biases in our literary culture and to set in place programs that act as incursions against those biases – is something I admire.

Like all important work, devising a survey with the aim of capturing the diversity of women writers reviewed in 2015 was made richer by the difficulties we encountered in creating it. Foremost in our minds was the question of how to move people in from the margins. That is, how do you engage people who have felt disenfranchised from an industry in which you (as an academic, as an organisation) may be seen – whether rightly or wrongly – as a gatekeeper? How do you meaningfully reach out to groups that you do not belong to?

The most critical thing for us was designing a survey that people would want to respond to. Stella’s Prize Manager, Veronica Sullivan, examined similar surveys in the industry to understand how they had been designed, why they succeeded, and why they failed. I began to meet with people who were prominent in the industry and who came from the kind of diverse backgrounds the Stella Count Survey was trying to capture, and sought their feedback and advice.

Thanks to the generosity of these writers, editors and industry leaders, we came up with a plan to create the most inclusive survey we could. One writer suggested that Stella should run a public forum at which members of the literary community could share their feedback, which we did in collaboration with Writers Victoria on 17 March 2016. Veronica and I brought a draft survey to the forum, and it was pulled apart in a process I now like to think of as a creative destruction. Its flaws and shortcomings were pointed out, thorny issues were raised and words were interrogated with the kind of attention that only people who care passionately about language can offer. It became clear that Veronica and I couldn’t complete the survey alone, and that the writing of the questions would have to be a collaborative and inclusive project. That night we called for volunteers to form a consultative committee that would take the feedback from the public forum and remodel it into a survey that people would respond to. The survey was honed by the committee and was then made available to women and gender diverse authors whose books were reviewed in 2015 by a major Australian newspaper or review publication.

While the number of responses may be small in relation to the size of the publishing industry, the engagement with the survey by the writing community has been heartening. I see this inaugural Stella Count survey as an important part of our literary culture – a critical first step in capturing various biases and underrepresentations, and an act of recognition of all the different ways we live and work as women writers.

Dr Natalie Kon-yu
Victoria University
2015 Stella Count Survey coordinator

Reflection from Yvette Walker

If a nation’s literature represents a nation’s people, then a plurality of voices needs to be heard. Who is being heard? Who is being published? Who is being reviewed? These are the questions that are being asked by individuals and organisations in Australian writing communities right now. Is Australia publishing writers who are people of colour, writers from ethnic minorities, writers who are queer, indigenous, or disabled? We want to know if the marginalised voices of Australian literature are breaking through into print and, if they are, to what extent and with what impact?

In order for these questions to be answered, in order for these discussions to rise above hearsay and generalisations, numbers need to be generated, data needs to be analysed. The Stella Diversity Count will contribute to a meaningful discussion about the long-standing disparities within our literary industries, a discussion that I hope will result in a more diverse publishing landscape. I grew up without seeing myself represented in books and, while LGBTI voices are breaking through right now, I want to see more queer writers in bookshops, more queer writers at literary festivals, more queer writers in book review pages. I want to see the queer voice, along with all the others, all the other marginalised voices, present in the centre of Australian literary life.

Yvette Walker
Author of Letters to the End of Love
2015 Stella Count Survey consultative committee member