The Writes of Woman Interviews Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, there’s every possibility you’ve also come across another brilliant blog about women writers: Something Rhymed. Something Rhymed is the work of writers Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney. It looks at friendships between women writers. A Secret Sisterhood is the book that grew out of that blog.

A Secret Sisterhood looks at the friendships of a number of well-known writers. In some of the pairings, both writers are famous, as in George Eliot and Harriet Beacher-Stowe as well as Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, while for Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë they’re the well-known halves of their pairings.

The book is structured in chronological order beginning with Jane Austen. Austen’s featured friendship was with a governess in her brother’s house, a woman called Anne Sharp who wrote plays. Midorikawa and Sweeney reconstruct how the friendship might have played out from unpublished letters and notebooks, ‘largely unmined by literary critics’ written by Fanny, Austen’s niece and Sharp’s charge. This friendship is particularly fascinating as it crosses the class divide and no doubt made Austen’s brother uncomfortable. I can’t discuss this section of the book without mentioning one sentence in particular; it refers to Anne Sharp whose mother died in 1803, the year before she began her employment for the Austen’s. I’ll just leave it here for your delight:

In the early nineteenth century, a single woman in her position, without affluent male relatives to support her, would have faced the unenviable task of securing a respectable way to earn her keep.

Charlotte Brontë’s friendship was with Mary Taylor, author of the feminist novel Miss Miles, although they were schoolchildren when they first met. They did not hit it off immediately:

The girl looked miserable and antiquated to Mary – a sharp contrast with the fashionable young ladies of the school. Like the newcomer, Mary and her boisterous sister Martha were far from stylish. The blue cloth coats they wore outdoors were too short for them, their black beaver bonnets only plainly trimmed. They even had to take the extra precaution of stitching over new pairs of gloves to try to make them last. But, rather than empathising with Charlotte, Mary scorned the girl’s outdated dress and cowed demeanour. Why, she noted to herself, she looks like ‘a little old woman’.

They bonded instead over intelligence and common interests – politics and literature – the best type of female friendships, I find.

George Eliot and Harriet Beacher Stowe’s friendship is particularly interesting as they never actually met. It seems some literary scholars have underestimated the strength of their friendship on the basis that they were pen pals. Despite this, the two confided in each other about their families and their work.

Despite marked differences in their temperaments – Harriet being the livelier and more impulsive of the two – their shared experiences as the most celebrated living female authors either side of the Atlantic immediately drew them close. That the pair shared this extraordinary status makes it all the more surprising that their friendship has not gone down in history.

Finally, the friendship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield is revealed to be a friendship, rather than the mere rivalry it’s been painted to be.

At their best, both women recognised that when ‘afflicted with jealousy’, as Virginia would put it, ‘the only thing is to confess’. This lesson allowed these two ambitious women to benefit from their creative competition – a process that proved as valuable to their shared art as that experienced by better-mythologised male writing duos.

The book is well-written and curated, turning historical documents into something between recreation and critique. My only criticism is that I would’ve liked more – more pairings, specifically including a wider demographic of women, the choices are very white, anglo-centric. However, I do recognise what a difficult sell this book would have been and am glad it exists.

A Secret Sisterhood is an engaging look at the little written about female friendships of significant women writers. It’s a delight to see women as the focus of this type of work; here’s hoping there’s a sequel!

You can buy A Secret Sisterhood from Amazon, Waterstones or support your local independent bookshop. If, like me, there isn’t one near you, I recommend Big Green Bookshop.

Thanks to Emily Midorikawa, Emma Claire Sweeney and Jessie Sullivan for the interview and the proof of the book.

In the Media: 26th April 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. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

This week’s been all about friendship. The Cut declared it Friends Forever Week and ran a series of articles including, ‘The Friend Who Showed Me the Life I Could Have Had‘ by Nell Freudenberger; Emily Gould wrote, ‘Envy Nearly Wrecked My Best Friendship‘; Carina Chocano, ‘9 Friends Who Made Me Who I Am‘; Heather Havrilesky, ‘The Friend I’ve Been Fighting With for 20 Years‘; Clique-Stalking: Instagram’s Greatest Social Pleasure‘ by Maureen O’Connor, and ‘25 Famous Women on Female Friendship‘. While Megan O’Grady wrote ‘This Spring’s Literary Subject May Have You Calling Your Pals‘ in Vogue; Lauren Laverne says ‘It’s time to rehabilitate matchmaking‘ in The Pool, Sulagna Misra writes ‘How Captain America Helped Me Make Friends in the Real World‘ on Hello Giggles and Leesa Cross-Smith writes, ‘Broken Friendships & Knowing All Too Well‘ on Real Pants.

If you’re still to discover it, one of my favourite blogs Something Rhymed covers friendships between female writers and is run by two female writers who are also best friends, Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa. On the site this week, ‘Crying Tears of Laughter: Irenosen Okojie and Yvette Edwards‘.

And then there’s the Amy Schumer sketch with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette and Tina Fey celebrating Louis-Dreyfus’ ‘Last Fuckable Day’. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must watch it RIGHT NOW! And when you’ve done that you can read Eleanor Margolis, ‘This Inside Amy Schumer sketch about the media’s treatment of “older” women is perfect‘ in the New Statesman and/or Lynn Enright, ‘Hollywood actresses skewer sexism and ageism brilliantly‘ in The Pool.

Unfortunately, it’s also been about Twitter trolls: Soraya Chemaly wrote in Time, ‘Twitter’s Safety and Free Speech Tightrope‘; Fiona Martin wrote ‘Women are silenced online, just as in real life. It will take more than Twitter to change that‘ in The Guardian; Sali Hughes wrote, ‘Trolls triumph by shutting down women’s voices‘ in The Pool

Congratulations to Yiyun Li who became the first woman to win the Sunday Times short story award and to Emily Bitto who won The Stella Prize this week.

In this week’s Harper Lee news, ‘Reese Witherspoon set to record Harper Lee’s new novel‘ reports Alison Flood in The Guardian.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Kate Bolick, author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, who writes ‘How Writers Can Grow by Pretending to Be Other People‘ in The Atlantic, and is interviewed on Slate, in Cosmopolitan and on Longreads. While Stephanie Gorton Murphy writes, ‘The Uneasy Woman: Meghan Daum, Kate Bolick, and the Legacy of Ida Tarbell‘ on The Millions.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music, Film and Television:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 5th April 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.

As In the Media seems to be growing by the week, I’ve divided it into more categories. Comments welcome on what you think of the change and whether you’d prefer different/more section headings.

The big news this week is the launch of The Pool, a free, online resource written by women, for women. Writer and broadcaster, Lauren Laverne and writer and former Red magazine editor, Sam Baker are the women behind it, The Guardian ran a piece about the site earlier in the week. ‘Drops’ of content are released during the day; each piece tells you approximately how long it will take you to read/listen to/watch, and you can search by content or by time if you’ve only got a few minutes.  You can also sign up for an account which allows you to save articles to your ‘scrapbook’ either to read later or refer back to.

I’ve dipped in a few times this week and I love it; it’s clearly organised with some great contributors. My picks so far would be the book section (of course), where you can read the opening of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Girl and the opening of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. There’s also an interview with Essbaum and 10 Things You Need to Know About Anne Tyler as well as an article by Baker about why good books often end up making bad films.

Elsewhere on the site, I’ve enjoyed Sam Baker’s ‘Does this mean I’m not allowed to be a LEGO any more?‘; Lauren Laverne’s blog, ‘Is being a teenager harder than ever before?‘; Sali Hughes’ ‘Why every woman needs a solo playdate‘ and ‘Is it ever OK to commit liticide?‘ (although I winced through the whole of that one); Holly Smale’s ‘Why can’t we just get over Cinderella?‘; Gaby Hinsliff’s ‘What would happen if men didn’t have the vote?‘; Stacey Duguid’s ‘Flares if you care‘ where Duguid goes around high street shops trying flares on like you do when you’re shopping (as opposed to raiding the magazine’s fashion cupboard); an extract from Lynsey Addario’s It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, and Laurene Laverne’s interviews with Caitlin Moran and Kim Gordon.

In Harper Lee news, ‘Harper Lee elder abuse allegations declared ‘unfounded’ by Alabama‘ says The Guardian.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society:

Music:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

Photograph by Jane Feng

 

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

(Harper Lee) In the Media: 8th February 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.

You would have had to be living somewhere with no media access since Tuesday not to know that after 55 years, Harper Lee has a ‘new’ novel coming out. Go Set a Watchman is the prequel/sequel/first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, discovered in a bank deposit box and set to be published on both sides of the Atlantic in July. There’s probably already been as many words written about the book as there are in it. Harper Lee’s/Go Set a Watchman‘s week in the media went something like this:

On Tuesday, The Bookseller broke the news, then ‘About that new Harper Lee novel…‘ was published on the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog. Vulture published, ‘Read Harper Lee’s 5 Amazing Nonfiction Pieces‘ with links to them all before Jezebel ran ‘Be Suspicious of the New Harper Lee Novel‘ and The Guardian ended the day with ‘Harper Lee to publish new novel, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird‘.

Wednesday began with Vulture publishing an interview with Lee’s editor which Mallory Ortberg responded to in The Toast with ‘Questions I Have About the Harper Lee Editor Interview‘. Judith Claire Mitchell wrote about her dream date with Atticus Finch on the 4th Estate website. The Atlantic published, ‘Harper Lee: The Sadness of a Sequel‘ while The Guardian said, ‘Harper Lee is excited about new book, says agent after sceptics raise doubts‘. Electric Literature came in with ‘Should We Hold the Horses on the Harper Lee Celebration?‘; Buzzfeed gave us ‘12 Beautifully Profound Quotes From “To Kill A Mockingbird”‘, while The Huffington Post ended the day with ‘12 Women On What Harper Lee’s Work Has Meant To Them‘.

By Thursday morning, Hadley Freeman in The Guardian was telling us ‘Let’s not assume Harper Lee is being exploited. Atticus Finch wouldn’t‘ and then a new statement arrived and was reported in The Bookseller, ‘Harper Lee ‘happy as hell’ with book reaction‘. The Guardian reacted to the statement with, ‘Harper Lee’s ‘lost’ novel was intended to complete a trilogy, says agent‘. Then Lincoln Michel came in with ‘Harper Lee And Exploitation In The Name Of Literature‘ on Buzzfeed, while The Telegraph asked ‘Could there be a third Harper Lee novel?‘; the Times Literary Supplement ran a piece titled ‘Harper Lee: happy as hell‘ and cartoonist Emily Flake drew ‘What Harper Lee’s Really Been Up To All These Years‘ for The New Yorker

The Huffington Post began Friday by asking ‘Is The New Harper Lee Novel A Mistake?: Author Idolatry And “Go Set a Watchman”‘, followed by Sarah Churchwell in The Guardian telling us ‘Why To Kill a Mockingbird Is Overrated. The Guardian also ran, ‘Harper Lee book news leaves home town surprised, bemused and sceptical‘ before Slate stated, ‘Don’t Publish Harper Lee’s New Novel, HarperCollins‘. Flavorwire went for ‘Harper Lee’s New Book: The Case for Optimism‘ and Salon started speculating on the content of the novel, ‘“Scout is a lesbian”: Some modest theories on what Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” follow-up will hold‘. The Guardian finished the day with, ‘Harper Lee and the vexed question of who owns an author’s work‘; Yahoo interviewed one of Lee’s friends, ‘Harper Lee was fine the day before sequel announced‘ and the Wall Street Journal wrapped it up with ‘Harper Lee Bombshell: How News of Book Unfolded‘.

The only news since then came on Saturday when the cover of Go Set a Watchman was revealed. Here’s Bookriot on it.

The other person to have a bit of a week in the limelight is Kelly Link whose latest short story collection Get in Trouble was published in America this week (it’s out in the UK next month). She’s interviewed on Electric Literature, Publishers Weekly and NPR Books. You can read ‘The Summer People‘ from Get in Trouble via Random House orStone Animalsfrom Magic for Beginners on Electric Literature

Elsewhere, there’s been a reoccurring theme of friendship (thanks to Longreads for pointing this out): Anne Helen Peterson wrote ‘The Genius of Taylor Swift’s Girlfriend Collection‘ on Buzzfeed; Claire Comstock-Gay wrote the story ‘I Knew I Loved You‘ published in Midnight Breakfast; Jennifer Weiner wrote ‘Mean Girls in the Retirement Home‘ in The New York Times; Meghan O’Connell wrote ‘Trying to Make Mom Friends Is the Worst‘ in The Cut; Nicole Soojung Callaghan wrote ‘Friendship and Race and Knowing Your Place‘ in The Toast; Freddie Moore wrote, ‘Is Every Unhappy Friendship Unhappy In Its Own Way? On Emily Gould’s Friendship and Lindsay Hunter’s Ugly Girls‘ on Electric Literature

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The new edition of The Letters Page was published this week including letters (fiction and non-fiction) from Rosa Campbell, Naomi Alderman, Kim Sherwood, Haisu Huang, Emma Chapman, Evelyn Conlon, Melissa Harrison and Karen McLeod.

The lists:

In the Media: 11th January 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.

K Barbican PK

(Photograph by Pedro Koechlin)

As it’s the first In the Media of the year, I’m going to begin by looking back at 2014 for a moment with pieces that appeared between Christmas and New Year. Katherine Angel’s brilliant piece, ‘Gender, blah, blah, blah‘ in The Los Angeles Review of Books; Jessie Burton, ‘Eggshells, Luck, Hope and Thanks‘ on her blog reflects on what a year it’s been for The Miniaturist; Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa ‘A Year of Hidden Friendships‘ on Something Rhymed; Rebecca Solnit, ‘Listen up, women are telling their story now‘ in The Guardian; Jia Tolentino, ‘The Promise in Elena Ferrante‘ on Jezebel; Charles Finch, also on Elena Ferrante for ‘A Year in Reading‘ for The Millions;  Ali Colluccio covers ‘The Best of Women in Comics 2014‘ on Panels, and  Elena Adler on ‘Why #ReadWomen 2014 has changed things, and why #ReadWomen matters‘ on her blog.

Looking forwards, there’s been a spotlight on diversity again this week with Celeste Ng writing about a male professor telling her there were few Asian-American women writers. There’s a fantastic list of writers at the bottom of the article. Nalo Hopkinson wrote ‘To anthology editors‘ on how to go about creating anthologies with a diversity of voices on her website; Alexis Teyie wrote this great piece, ‘Invoking the women in early African writing‘ on This Is Africa, while Lyn Gardner declared ‘Diversity is key to Creativity – and British Theatre’s Challenge for 2015‘ in The Guardian and Stella Duffy wrote, ‘Making Arts for All for ALL‘ on her blog.

While The White Review has kicked off the year with an all translation issue. You can read online pieces by Herta Müller (tr. Philip Boehm); poetry by Alejandra Pizarnik (tr. Yvette Seigert) and Angélica Freitas (tr. Hilary Kaplan); a short story by Tove Jansson (tr.  Thomas Teal); extracts from novels by Minae Mizumuru (tr. Juliet Winters Carpenter) and Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith), and an interview with Magdalena Tulli (tr. Bill Johnston).

(Photograph by Kuba Kolinski)

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

And the lists: