Women Writers Wednesday 6/24/15

Instead of a review this week, I want to take a minute to talk more about this series and the reason it was started.

There’s been a lot of press in the last year or so about gender bias in the publishing industry. Many people have observed that it’s hard to get traditionally published if you’re a woman, especially if you’re also writing about women. With the exception of the romance genre, literature is still, somehow, “a man’s world.” And all this despite the oft-repeated statistic that most book buyers (and book clubbers) are women. I’d heard and read all these things over and over again, but for some reason, it wasn’t entirely resonating with me.

Why? I go to conferences, and more than half the agents at every conference I go to are women. In the writing industry seminars and classes I take––whether in town or at a conference––at least half (sometimes far more) of the writers around me are women. I read books by women (though not exclusively). I read books about women (though not exclusively). There’s no shortage of women on my bookshelf and in my recommended reads on Amazon.

But wrapped up in my own experiences, I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture.

The more I investigated this topic, in talking to other authors I know, in reading articles about it online, in seeking out multiple perspectives on this issue on social media, the more I began to see that there really is a problem. It’s not just about the writing industry, of course: it’s about our society more broadly. I’ll try not to be too much of a SJW here, but things like gender bias, discrimination, rape culture, and hating on women are some of the most insidious cancers in our culture. They’re particularly damaging not just because they are bad in and of themselves, but because in our culture, we have a belief that everything we do is infused with inalienable rights, with freedoms to be and say and do whatever we want. Sometimes, though, this crosses a line, as anyone who has ever paid attention to free speech debates surely knows.

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Paul Downs Colaizzo said of his play Really Really that its genesis was in part the current youth’s hook-up culture and in part the 2006 Duke lacrosse team rape scandal. He cited some interesting points about American culture in a talkback after a Black Lab Theatre performance of it, directed by Jordan Jaffe, here in Houston last spring. When asked the question, “What do you want most for your children?” the WWII generation wanted their children to grow up to be good citizens. Those children, when grown, when asked the same, wanted their children to be happy. Those happy children? They grew up to tell their own kids they could be whatever they wanted to be.

Does any of this sound familiar? It’s a charming progression. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong with it. But then when a generation of people are raised thinking they can be or do whatever they want…

We get––among other things, some of which are good––our current state of rape culture and Internet trolldom.

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What is my point here? It may seem like things are hunky-dory on the surface because we have a lot of personal freedoms (especially if we’re white men). But that’s not the whole picture. Unless you’ve been living in a cave the last couple of months you know that a bunch of the evil -isms of the Human Condition are alive and unfortunately well in our great nation. “Something rotten in the state of Denmark” doesn’t even begin to cover the mess we’re in. I’ll digress too much if I try to list it all here.

Gender bias is just one part of this.

We have to pay attention to it.

The Women Writers Wednesday series on this blog was begun in an attempt to help rectify just one part of this tangled problem.

In this series, female authors share their views on books by other female authors. The idea was to highlight women’s contributions, now and before, to literature. The books are chosen by the reviewers/responders; I don’t curate the titles in general. Want to know something interesting? Out of nearly two dozen reviews/responses we’ve had in this series since November, all but four have been about books written about women––and those four were about both women and men.

So the books are out there. And they’re good. They’re inspiring people. So what’s the problem?

These books aren’t being recognized. And I don’t mean just the books in the WWW series. I mean books by women about women, in general. Check out these chilling pie charts by author Nicola Griffith:

 

This chart shows the winners of the Pulitzer Prize since 2000.
This chart shows the winners of the Pulitzer Prize since 2000.

 

and

 

This chart shows the National Book Award winners since 2000.
This chart shows the National Book Award winners since 2000.

 

(You can see Ms. Griffith’s full blog post with several more pie charts and a discussion on this subject by clicking here.)

I don’t know where the problem begins, but I don’t think it’s a lack of women writing, or even of women writing well. I also don’t know what the solution is, but I am very sure nothing will get solved if people aren’t talking about it. And preferably in constructive ways. (You know, the kind that don’t involve simply dismissing the issue or attacking women verbally in the public sphere.)

Ms. Griffith has also posted a call to action: to help acquire more data. More information, after all, will help everyone to see the problem and its potential solutions more clearly.

Take a look. Get involved if you can. Start with literature, branch out to interpersonal relations. Make the world better.

 

 

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Women Writers Wednesday 6/3/15

Here’s an informal poll: what books have changed your life?

I’m not looking for a Facebook-viral list of 25 Important Books You’d Die on a Desert Island Without or anything like that. I want to know, what that one book is which changed something vital about your existence. You might have ten favorite books you could no sooner rank than you could choose a favorite among your children or pets. This is not that dilemma. What is the one piece of literature that made some aspect of you profoundly different?

There are many books which have affected me deeply, no doubt, in a variety of ways. But one book that absolutely changed the course of my life is Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. This book, and dinner with the author himself at a mutual friend’s home, inspired me to pursue fiction writing seriously rather than to get another degree in poetry. The course of my professional life was forever and probably irrevocably altered by this choice.

I’d love to know what book has mattered this much to you. In the comments below, leave an anecdote about a single book that has meant something special. In fact, the first five people to respond will get a free copy of Finis. for themselves or gifted to someone else.

Today’s Women Writers Wednesday comes to us from Carla Jean Whitley about a book which had a deep and lasting impact on her.

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If you’re a bookworm, you’re probably acquainted with the experience of a book hangover, if not the term itself. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when you approach the end of a book that has captured not only your attention, but your heart. Book hangovers follow the stories, essays, or poems that affect a life so powerfully, it becomes hard to believe there are other books worth your time.

Within the first two chapters of Anna Quindlen’s “How Reading Changed My Life,” I knew that I’d encountered just such a book. In this essay collection, Quindlen recounts the value of reading, whether the object of your affection is high-brow literature or a novel from childhood. It’s only 96 pages, and so I was mourning its inevitable conclusion by the end of the second chapter.

from Random House's publicity site
from Random House’s publicity site

“How Reading Changed My Life” immediately found a place on the shelf among my favorite, most-trusted books. It’s a book I turn to time and again, and one I frequently select as a gift for fellow readers.

And while this remains the book of Quindlen’s I cherish the most, it is also the gateway drug. Her columns for the New York Times and Newsweek are compelling—she won a 1992 Pulitzer for her Times work, after all—and in the books that have collected those, I’ve found a kindred spirit. Quindlen is a writer, a mom, and a wife who offers insight on all areas of life. She left nonfiction years ago with the intent of working solely as a novelist (and her recent Still Life with Bread Crumbs is my favorite of her fiction). But over the years, Quindlen has continued to shed light on family, politics, life, and age. She is a woman I love to read.

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Carla Jean Whitley is a writer, editor, and teacher based in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is a features writer for Alabama Media Group. She is the author of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music and Balancing Act: Yoga Essays. Her next book, Birmingham Beer: The Role of Alabama’s Largest City in Changing the State’s Beer Culture, is scheduled for release this spring. Connect with her at carlajeanwhitley.com.

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

Querying at the DFWCon Gong Show and Living to Tell the Tale

It was the last hour of the conference. All weekend, writers and agents and editors and industry professionals of all kinds had been networking, learning, teaching, finding polite and impersonal rejection, or feeling gratified that their ideas had merit. And now, all the people who were left had situated themselves in the ballroom for The Gong Show. Continue reading “Querying at the DFWCon Gong Show and Living to Tell the Tale”

Bringing into the Fold: A Review of Marie Marshall’s Poetry Collection NAKED IN THE SEA

When I was in high school, one of my classmates and I found ourselves mildly obsessed with the poetry of Sara Teasdale. We found a copy of her collected works in the school library and took turns checking it out, over and over again, until it never spent any time in the stacks anymore. We loved that book.

Even if I wouldn’t necessarily gravitate toward her verse now, Teasdale sparked something important in me: she helped me get past my hatred of poetry.

In my high school English classes, we mostly read poems from that no-woman’s-time between Emily Continue reading “Bringing into the Fold: A Review of Marie Marshall’s Poetry Collection NAKED IN THE SEA”

Book Spine Poetry Contest — DEADLINE

Hey there.  So today’s the last day of April.  How did it sneak up on us so quickly?  Well, if you’re in education, the answer is easy:  we’ve hit that point in the school year when no one can get any traction because everything is so hectic and stressful.  Ah well.

Because I’m in this position, too — and because I didn’t announce this contest until April 6th — I’m extending the deadline for this contest till the end of this coming weekend.  We’ve had several wonderful entries so far — and thanks to all who’ve submitted! — but I’m getting ready for a writers’ conference this weekend and buried in grading.  Like I tell my students when they want an extension, “Sure, take an extra day, because I wasn’t going to be grading this paper tonight anyway.”

New deadline is this Sunday night, May 5th.  Winner gets a t-shirt.  Submit as many entries as you like.  There is no age requirement to enter.  Click here for the full details.

Have a good week!

Reminder: National Poetry Month Contest, One Week Left

I tried to make a funny connection between the title of today’s post and the Barenaked Ladies’ breakout hit “One Week,” but I decided instead not to force it and to see whether you could come up with one.  Can you?  Can you??  If so, please post it in the comments section here.

Otherwise, here is your reminder that this year’s National Poetry Month contest ends one week from today.  Not sure what this contest is?  Click here for more details!  It’s super fun.  We’ve had relatively few entries so far, too, so your chances are winning are better than usual.

Have a good last week of April!

April Poetry Contest: Something REALLY Short…

It’s April again, and that means NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!!  YAY!!!

This year for my April poetry contest, I’m going with something a bit different.  (Well, different for me, but apparently commonplace everywhere else, as a simple Internet search will suggest.)  Have you ever heard about Book Spine Poetry?  Well, that’s the focus of this contest.  Read this Slate article here by David Rosenberg for more information and some stellar examples by Nina Katchadourian.

You have until April 30th, 2013, to compose a short poem or story comprised entirely of the words on the spines of books.  Each composition must be the contest entrant’s own original work.  To enter the contest, email a picture of your entry to me at forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com with the subject line “BOOK SPINE POETRY CONTEST ENTRY.”  (Please do NOT leave your entry here in the comments section, although if you foresee having difficulty emailing your entry to me, you may explain why here in the comments section, and we’ll work it out.)  There is no limit to how many times you may enter, as long as you do so before the end of this month.

For a multitude of glorious examples which I won’t picture here because of copyright issues, check out these images of book spine poetry from Google search.

All entries will be featured here on Sappho’s Torque.  The winner will be selected by a volunteer panel of writers and will receive a t-shirt with a hilarious Emily Dickinson joke on it.

Thank you for playing, and good luck!

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Please note:  The deadline for this contest has been extended to Sunday night, May 5th, 2013.  Good luck!