Noticed any free books on public transport? Here’s the story behind them

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun21,2024
If you’ve travelled on public transport this week, you may have come across a novel or two with a bright green sticker on the front cover.
It was probably one of the hundreds of free books being distributed across the country by the team behind , a major literary award celebrating Australian women and non-binary people’s writing.
Fiona Sweet, chief executive of Stella, said the “driving force” behind the initiative was to expose more Australians to different perspectives.
“We need to actually explore more about what other people think, feel, and experience,” she said.
“Women are half the population and we think differently … we have different struggles.

“How do we achieve equality if we don’t share our stories in the broader community?”

A blonde woman reading a book on a tram

The books are all by authors who have made the Stella Prize longlist. Source: Supplied / Stella

With Stella on the Go, Sweet hoped literature would become more accessible to everyone, while also encouraging them to reduce their screen time.

“When cost of living is really critical, it’s a really good opportunity for people to read books — not that I want them to stop buying books,” she said.

“Even if you read a page or a paragraph … let’s just get off the digital media and read something different.”

What books are included?

The more than 140 titles being scattered across Australia are all books that have made the Stella Prize’s longlist since its inception in 2013 — including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and even graphic novels.
Sweet said Praiseworthy — which was written by Alexis Wright and won the Stella prize this year — is “an incredibly brilliant story”.
“[It’s about] an Indigenous, fictitious town somewhere in the north of Australia where a big haze comes over the town.

“It’s a response to climate change, but it’s fiction and it’s fantasy, in a way — and there’s humour and there’s comedy as well.”

Where can you find the books?

At this stage, Stella on the Go books can be found on trams, trains, buses and in public spaces in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Cairns.
But Sweet hopes to expand it to other parts of Australia — and maybe even introduce other titles.
“We’re just trying to find people to distribute them in Canberra, and we’ll keep going,” she said.

“When we go to those regional centres, we’ll start taking them with us as well.”

What do you do with the books once you’ve read them?

Once you pick up one of the books and read it, Sweet said it’s up to you what you do with it.
“They can give it to someone in their household. They can put it back on the public transport, which is great. They’re more than welcome to keep them, too,” Sweet said.
“We’re not setting any rules, but we are going to keep putting more and more books constantly around Australia on public transport to keep growing the message about reading and reading other people’s stories and hearing about other people’s stories.”
Readers are encouraged to share their experiences on social media using the hashtag #stellaonthego, Sweet said.

“We want some comments from … not just people in the literature world and not just from people who love to read and love to read books that are Stella winners, we want to broaden the conversation and make sure that we’re including everyone,” she said.

While the books currently in circulation are courtesy of Stella’s bookshelf and Sweet’s personal collection, she said they’ve already been contacted by publishing houses and members of the public wanting to donate extra copies to the cause.
“We’re now sending stickers to people all around Australia,” she said.
“You sticker them and you distribute them in your community … if there’s not a lot of public transport, then maybe it’s in the café.”

As for how long Stella on the Go will run for, Sweet said it’s up to public.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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