In the Media: March 2016, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist was announced this fortnight. While former winner, Lionel Shriver declared ‘Women’s literary prizes are ‘problematic’‘.

And the Wellcome Book Prize announced their shortlist with four (out of six) female writers on it, as did the YA Book Prize with eight women writers on its ten book shortlist.

Elena Ferrante is hot news in the literary world once again after Corriere della Sera published an article in which Marco Santagata claimed to know her identity. Rachel Donadio wrote, ‘Who Is Elena Ferrante? An Educated Guess Causes a Stir‘ in The New York Times; Jonathan Sturgeon said, ‘We Already Know the Identity of Elena Ferrante‘ on Flavorwire; Lincoln Michel asked, ‘Why Do We Care Who the “Real” Elena Ferrante Is?‘ on Electric Literature; Stassa Edwards asked, ‘What’s Really Behind Our Obsession Over Unmasking Elena Ferrante?‘ on Jezebel; John Dugdale wrote, ‘Will Elena Ferrante outlast Louisa May Alcott’s secret alter ego?‘ in The Guardian, and Jessica Roy declared, ‘Leave Elena Ferrante Alone‘ in The Cut.

Anita Brookner died. Rebecca Hawkes wrote her obituary while Linda Grant wrote, ‘Why Anita Brookner’s funny, sharp novels got under your skin‘ both in The Telegraph.

The best of the rest:

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On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi

Back in January, I wrote about taking part in #TBR20, focusing on reading books by women of colour. Since then I’ve broken the book buying ban and my reviewing’s slowed considerably. However, I’ve still been reading the books I selected and I’ve decided it’s about time I got my reviews of them up. Part of the decision to post the reviews now is due to #diverseauthorday which is happening on Thursday (you can read more about that here). As part of my celebration three of the four reviews I post this week will be of books by women of colour. (Tomorrow I have YA author Sheena Wilkinson on the blog in the lead-up to the UKYA Extravaganza next month.)

Suppose you’re born in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the year nineteen hundred and thirty-something. Suppose your father’s a rat-catcher. (Your absent mother is never discussed, to the extent that you nurse a theory that you’re a case of spontaneous generation.)

A girl named Boy is the narrator of Boy, Snow, Bird. Her father’s violent but she says she thinks she could kill someone if she had to – either him or herself, ‘whichever option proved most practical’. However, the repeated beatings and the knowledge that going to college wouldn’t be something her rat-catcher father would respond to positively lead Boy to run away. She buys a ticket to Flax Hill, the furthest destination for the bus, and takes a room in a run down boarding house.

Struggling to find work because she’s from Manhattan, has an unusual name and doesn’t have any skills, Boy spends her time going on double dates with Veronica Webster who lives on the floor below. It’s on one of these double dates that Boy meets Arturo Whitman and as Veronica continues to date Whitman’s friend and business partner, Ted, Boy dates Whitman. After a few dates he reveals he has a six-year-old daughter called Snow. Several dates later, Boy meets her when she wanders past the Whitman’s house:

I couldn’t see her face properly – it was obscured by clouds of dark hair with big red flowers plaited into them…Her voice sounded exactly the way I’d thought it would sound. For some reason that scared me, so I didn’t stop at the gate to greet her even though I heard her saying “Hi” in a startled way. I just said “Hi, Snow” as if we’d met before, when of course we hadn’t, and I kept going, kept my gaze fixed on the road ahead of me. “Scared” doesn’t even really describe it. I almost crossed myself. It felt like the evil eye had fallen upon us both.

I don’t want to write too much else about the plot for fear of spoilers, other than to say that the Bird of the title is Boy and Arturo’s daughter and her birth leads to some key issues for their family.

Boy Snow Bird uses elements of fairytales – mirrors, absent mothers, stepmothers who may or may not be wicked, children who are banished – but Oyeyemi does more than simply rewrite Snow White, she uses the story to look at family relationships and, most importantly, ideas around passing (in several senses of the word).

Oyeyemi writes beautifully:

I kissed the glass with my fists against it, kissed wantonly until I felt an ache in my breasts and a throbbing between my legs. There was a taste of blood where my mouth met my mouth, as if our lips were blades.

She also creates an engaging story with two big, really quite shocking, twists. The first of these is very clever and links to prevalent ideas of the time. The second is interesting but I wasn’t completely convinced by it. Not because it was implausible – it was certainly believable – but because I didn’t feel as though it had been sufficiently set-up earlier in the novel. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of a well-written, interesting novel though and I’ll certainly be reading more of Oyeyemi’s work.

In the Media: 22nd March 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

The big news this week is that Kath Viner became the first woman appointed to the role of editor-in-chief at The Guardian in its 194 year history. The first woman to edit a UK broadsheet and only the second EIC of The Guardian to have attended a (selective) state school.

Unfortunately, the other trend in articles this week have been about the abuse women have suffered from a variety of sources; Heidi Stevens wrote in the Chicago Tribune ‘Hate mail lesson: Uncombed hair threatens the natural order‘; Sarah Xerta wrote ‘The Brick Wall: The Intersection of Patriarchy, Privilege, Anger, and Language‘ on VIDA; Juliet Annan ‘is a Lazy Feminist‘ in publishing on the Penguin Blog; Sara Pascoe wrote ‘The hymen remains an evolutionary mystery – and the focus of the oppression of women’s sexuality‘ in The Guardian; Katie McDonough wrote ‘If you’re shocked by this Penn State frat’s nude photo ring, you’re not paying attention‘ on Salon; Jessie Burton took ‘Speakers’ Corner‘ on Hunger TV; Claire Byrne wrote, ‘One sordid, gross and offensive comment must have been thought up while he sat there scratching himself in his grey fading jocks. I wonder what makes people think it’s acceptable to make comments like that?‘ in the Irish Independent, and Ashley Judd wrote, ‘Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass‘ on Mic.

And there’s been a number of articles about race; Rebecca Carroll wrote ‘Calling out one racist doesn’t make white people any less complicit in supremacy‘ in The Guardian; Jia Tolentino wrote ‘How to Talk About Race With Your Starbucks Barista: A Guide‘ in Jezebel; Maya Goodfellow wrote, ‘Climate change is easier to ignore because right now it’s people of colour who suffer the most‘ on Media Diversified; Vulture interviewed Claudia Rankine on ‘Serena, Indian Wells, and Race‘ and KCRW’s Bookworm asked her about writing the racial ‘other’.

This week’s Harper Lee news: To Kill a Mockingbird was named #78 on The Guardian list of The 100 Best Novels; Casey N. Cep reported on ‘Harper Lee’s Abandoned True-Crime Novel‘ in The New Yorker, and Jonathon Sturgeon asked ‘Is It Time to Get Hopeful About Harper Lee?‘ on Flavorwire.

And prizes this week went to Louise O’Neill who won the inaugural YA Book Prize and Louise Erdrich won the Library of Congress Award.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists:

In the Media: 26th October 2014

In the media is a weekly round up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

 

This week there’s definitely a celebration of feminist role models happening. At the forefront (mostly because her book Yes, Please is out in the US on Tuesday and the UK the following week) is Amy Poehler. Bustle have 15 Quotes that Prove She’s Our Brilliant Fairy Godmother; Popsugar have 19 Times Amy Poehler Said What We Wish We’d Said, while People have her answering questions people posted on Twitter and Facebook. Amanda Hess, in Slate, wrote about Poehler joining the famous women’s comedy/memoir/advice-book club; Lydia Kiesling wrote in Salon about how Nora Ephron presides over Poehler, Dunham, Fey and Kaling’s books, while Sam Baker in Harpers Bazaar wrote about Fearless Feminist Reads and why they’re important for teenage girls as well as adults.

Someone else who’s been written about as a feminist role model this week is Jane Austen. Jane Austen: Feminist in Action by Sinéad Murphy ran on the Huffington Post blog; Alexander McCall Smith explained why he’s modernised Emma on the Waterstones’ Blog; Sarah Seltzer on Flavorwire wrote about ‘Why We Can’t Stop Reading – and Writing – Jane Austen Sequels‘, while on Something Rhymed, Emma Claire Sweeney wrote ‘In Praise of the Spinster‘ about playwright, Ann Sharpe, Austen’s family’s governess.

Another amazing woman, Joan Didion, is also being celebrated this week. Her nephew is making a documentary about her. You can watch the trailer here. He’s decided to raise funds via Kickstarter which led to Flavorwire publishing Some Other Joan Didion Kickstarter Rewards We’d Like to See and Vogue re-publishing her 1961 essay ‘On Self-Respect‘.

It would be wrong not to mention Hallowe’en this week, particularly as there’s been a group of pieces around that theme. Wired’s podcast, which features Lauren Beukes, is What’s Scarier, Haunted Houses or Haunted People?; Electric Literature have published ‘“Then, a Hellbeast Ate Them”: Notes on Horror Fiction and Expectations‘, looking at Diane Cook and Helen Oyeyemi amongst others; Sarah Perry has written on The Gothic for Aeon, and Kate Mayfield who wrote the memoir ‘The Undertaker’s Daughter’ is on For Books’ Sake talking about How Not to Write a Memoir and in The Guardian talking about ‘Growing Up in the Family Funeral Parlour‘.

Talking of scary, Gone Girl‘s still a hot topic this week. Tana Wojczuk wrote ‘Gone Girl, Bluebeard, and the Meaning of Marriage‘ in Guernica in response to Elif Bautman’s piece ‘Marriage Is an Abduction‘ from last week’s New Yorker. Amanda Ann Klein wrote about the ‘Unbearable Whiteness of Gone Girls‘ for Avidly, and Steph Cha wrote about ‘Laughing at “Gone Girl”‘ in the LA Review of Books.

This week’s other notable essays/articles:

And the interviews:

In translation news, I’ve seen no articles this week about the identity of Elena Ferrante – hurrah! But I have seen that there’s a new imprint called Periscope devoted to translating poetry by women – hurrah!

If you’d like some fiction to read/listen to:

Or some non-fiction:

This week’s lists:

And the best things I’ve read this week:

Unsung Female Writers (Part One)

Last week I wrote a post you might have seen about the shortage of female writers on this year’s Booker Prize longlist. One of the consequences of the post was that a discussion started on Twitter about female writers who deserve more recognition. There were so many wonderful writers mentioned (several I hadn’t heard of before) that I decided to share some of them on here. I’ve teamed up with three of my favourite bloggers – Ali from HeavenAli, Susan from A Life in Books and Antonia Honeywell and we’ve each chosen five brilliant female writers we love and think you might too. Ali and Susan’s choices are below, Antonia’s and mine will follow on Sunday.

Ali likes to read twentieth-century women writers, particularly those published by Virago and Persephone. Her blog is a treasure trove of female writers forgotten or never really acknowledged. I think I’ve discovered more writers via Ali’s blog than any other. Here are her choices:

Elizabeth Taylor 1912-1975

The author of twelve novels, five volumes of short stories, and one children’s book. She is often talked of as being one of the greatest underrated English novelists, although it could be argued that she has not been entirely disregarded as her work has never been out of print and she was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 1971 for her novel Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. She is frequently compared to Jane Austen – a subject which I think is continually debated by readers of Elizabeth Taylor – and the influences of Austen can certainly be seen in several of her novels. Elizabeth Taylor was briefly a member of the communist party, and later became a life-long Labour Party supporter. She juggled her writing with family life, a married woman with two children, who in her younger years had worked as a librarian. She was an intensely private woman, destroying before her death, the many letters she had from her correspondence with writer, critic and great friend Robert Liddell and others. She counted several literary people among her friends including the author Elizabeth Jane Howard and Ivy Compton Burnett, but generally shied away from the literary parties and publicity. Elizabeth Taylor’s work is mainly concerned with the everyday concerns and occupations of middle and upper-middle class life. Her canvases (like Austen) are small, and her portrayals are very shrewd and can be really quite sharp. She had a fine ear for the way people speak to one another, and her characterisation is first class; her peripheral characters are as deeply explored as her main characters. There is a lot of wry humour in her novels, but also a lot that is poignant and real, though firmly rooted in the upper-middle class world that she knew.

Marghanita Laski 1915 – 1988

Born into a family of Jewish intellectuals in Manchester, Marghanita Laski later worked as a journalist – but also prolifically as a writer. She wrote five novels (four currently reissued by Persephone books) a play, The Offshore Island, some stories and works of biography, as well as working as an editor on many more books. Her novel Little Boy Lost is one of the most blissfully poignant books I have ever read, and her novels The Village and To Bed with Grand Music – offer different perspectives of women during and in the immediate aftermath of WW2. She was also a compulsive contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Nina Bawden 1925 – 2012

Nina Bawden may not appear to be unsung as such – she won several awards, and seems to have had a very successful career. I just can’t help but think she is already a name that isn’t as well-known as maybe it should be. Well known for her children’s books Carrie’s War (my favourite children’s novel) and The Peppermint Pig, amongst others, Nina Bawden was a prolific writer of adult books too. Over the course of her life she published 55 books both for children and adults. She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1987 for Circles of Deceit and also served as a Booker judge. However I don’t think she is well known as she deserves to be, (though I admit I haven’t as yet read many of her books) her often fairly slim novels offer little sharp little twists and contain powerful observations of people. In the last couple of years I have read and enjoyed: The Grain of Truth, Devil by the Sea and A Woman of my Age. In 2002 Nina Bawden’s second husband was killed in the Potters Bar train crash – while Nina herself was badly injured. Her testimony about the events became a major part of David Hare’s later play The Permanent Way.

Winifred Holtby 1898 – 1935

Born into a prosperous Yorkshire family, Winifred Holtby was a successful journalist and the author of six novels and two collections of short stories. She also wrote a critical memoir of Virginia Woolf. In 1919 she went to Oxford where she met her great friend Vera Brittain. Together with Vera Brittain she was a member of the feminist six point group and lectured (again like Vera Brittain) for the League of United Nations. Her early novels like Anderby Wold were published in the 1920s, but during these years Holtby was probably best known for her journalism. Her wonderful novels are rooted in the Yorkshire communities that she knew. Her novel Mandoa, Mandoa (not currently in print but available in ebook form) is an odd little political satire that Holtby wrote in the wake of the 1931 general election. In 1931 she was diagnosed with suffering from Bright’s disease and only given two years to live. Knowing she was running out of time she then concentrated on the writing of her best novel South Riding – a truly brilliant novel. South Riding is a novel of local politics and the community of the East Riding where she grew up. Holtby’s mother had been the first alderwoman on the East Riding county council – and she is remembered in the character of Mrs Beddows. South Riding was published posthumously in 1936.

Susan Glaspell 1876 – 1948

Again a writer who may not appear entirely unsung, although she may not have been heard of by many people. She was an American Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, but she was also a wonderful novelist. Glaspell also worked as an actress and a local journalist, and it appears as if, despite the success of her novels and stories at the time, she was later best known and remembered for her plays. A lot of her work is now out of print – two wonderful novels Fidelity and Brook Evans have been re-issued by Persephone books. During her life she wrote nine novels, fifteen plays, over fifty short stories and a biography. Her fiction is often thought to be at least semi-autobiographical, frequently set in her native Iowa and concerning contemporary issues (to her time of course), such as gender, ethics, and dissent. Some of her plays, stories and other novels can be found via second hand book sites and print on demand services – it is a shame that only two are currently in print. Persephone also include one of her short stories in their Persephone book of short stories.

Susan has spent most of her working life in the book world. Firstly as a book seller, then as a freelance writer and reviews editor for Waterstone’s Books Quarterly and We Love This Book. We share a passion for excellent female writers – our love of Helen Dunmore’s work is what really got us sharing thoughts and recommendations.

You could quibble with classing Helen Dunmore as unsung – she won the inaugural Orange (now Baileys) Women’s Prize for fiction – but she’s never received the level of approbation that her contemporaries Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie attract despite her extraordinary talent and versatility. She’s an award-winning poet, a children’s author, and her fiction ranges from profoundly thoughtful novels to psychological thrillers. If I had to choose one Dunmore to press upon readers it would be Talking to the Dead. Packed with insight into the complications of family life and the power of secrets to shape and destroy lives, it has the pace of a thriller yet it reads like a long prose poem written in language which is as sensuous and languorous as the heat which seems to permeate every page.

If Helen Dunmore doesn’t qualify on the unsung front because she’s a prize winner, sadly Jill Dawson does. Accomplished and richly imaginative, the closest Dawson has got to a prize is a short listing for both the Costa and the Orange. There’s often an element of history in her fiction – she’s written about Rupert Brooke in The Great Lover, Wild Boy drew on a true story about a feral boy in post-Revolutionary France and Fred and Edie is based on the story of Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, hung for the murder of Edie’s husband in the ‘20s. If I had to choose one, though, it would be Lucky Bunny, Queenie Dove’s story of thieving her way from Depression poverty to glamour while staving off heartbreak and guilt. Dawson weaves real-life characters and events into Queenie’s narrative, vividly summoning up London’s sleazy underworld.

Lots of time for my next writer to get the recognition she deserves: Helen Oyeyemi who at only thirty has already written five novels. In fairness, Oyeyemi has appeared on the Granta Best of Young Novelists list and won a Somerset Maugham Award but she doesn’t seem to have received anywhere near the attention her imaginative fiction deserves. She wrote her first novel, the extraordinarily accomplished and frankly terrifying The Icarus Girl, when she was studying for her A-Levels but her latest, Boy Snow Bird, is my current favourite. It’s a tale of race and identity with elements of fairy tale – a wicked stepmother, a Prince Charming or two, a girl called Snow and a richly symbolic mirror motif reflecting, or not reflecting, different images the characters have of themselves. It’s stuffed with stories, strikingly written, with a twist towards the end which will knock your socks off.

In contrast to Oyeyemi, Lesley Glaister has been writing for many years but rarely gets the kind of broadsheet coverage she deserves. Her themes are often dark – murder, madness and obsession are favourites – and she does a fine line in eccentric old women. A steely thread of tension runs through her fiction often accompanied by a healthy dollop of black humour. Sadly, many of Glaister’s books are now out of print but of the ones that are available I’d pick Now You See Me. Homeless, deeply disturbed and with a secret buried in denial and untruth, Lamb seeks safety in solitude until she meets Doggo, on the run from a crime that he also conceals. These two outcasts find a way to each other and the result is an unusual love story that steps outside the traditional bounds of romance.

My final choice is Deirdre Madden, a writer of long standing whose quietly elegant prose deserves to be ranked alongside the likes of Sebastian Barry, William Trevor and Colm Tóibin. She writes slim, understated novels in which the Troubles are often present in one form or another. In Molly Fox’s Birthday, the eponymous actor is spending her Midsummer’s Day birthday in New York while the playwright, to whom she has lent her gloriously cluttered house, struggles to start her new piece, preoccupied with questions about Molly, their friendship and their relationship with Andrew whose loyalist paramilitary brother was killed in the North. It’s a beautifully expressed novel about identity, art and friendship.

Huge thanks to Ali and Susan for their choices. How many have you added to your TBR? Is your favourite writer here? Which female writers do you think deserve more recognition? Check back on Sunday to see mine and Antonia’s choices.