In the Media, June 2016, Part One

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.

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It’s impossible to begin with anything other than the Stanford rape case. The victim’s court statement was published on Buzzfeed and went viral. The piece, along with responses from Brock Turner’s father and friends, including a female friend who defended him, have prompted some impassioned and powerful pieces: Louise O’Neill wrote, ‘20 minutes is an awfully long time when you’re the one being raped‘ in the Irish Examiner; Estelle B. Freedman, ‘When Feminists Take On Judges Over Rape‘ in The New York Times; Sarah Lunnie, ‘Maybe the word “rapist” is a problem: The utility of nouns and verbs, or accepting who we are and what we do‘ on Salon; Adrienne LaFrance, ‘What Happens When People Stop Talking About the Stanford Rape Case?‘ on The Atlantic; Kim Saumell, ‘I was never raped but…‘ on Medium; Rebecca Makkai, ‘The Power and Limitations of Victim-Impact Statements‘ in The New Yorker; Roe McDermott, ‘He Said Nothing‘ on The Coven; Glosswitch, ‘Does the outrage over the Stanford rape case do anything to help victims?‘ in the New Statesman

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The other big news this fortnight was Lisa McInerney’s debut novel, The Glorious Heresies, taking The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016. Justine Jordan wrote, ‘Sweary Lady’s riot of invention is a well-deserved winner of the Baileys prize‘ in The Guardian. While McInerney wrote about her working day for The Guardian and shared a secret in ‘Bad Behaviourism‘ on Scottish Book Trust

There’s a new series on Literary Hub about women writers in translation. Written by a group of translators, each fortnight they’re looking at a country and the women writers from there yet to be translated into English. So far they’ve covered Germany, China and Italy. I’ve added it to the regulars at the bottom of the page.

And finally, the excellent Jendella Benson has a new column on Media Diversified. This week’s is ‘How to Raise a Champion‘ and I’ve also added her to the list of regulars at the bottom of the page.

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The best of the rest:

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/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

‘Why aren’t we talking about universality?’ Bare Lit Festival 2016

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This past weekend saw the inaugural Bare Lit Festival take place in the east end of London. ‘Bare Lit Festival is a new literature festival for writers of colour, giving them the platform and visibility they deserve.’

On Saturday I went to two panels, ‘What Does Liberation in Literature Look Like?’ followed by ‘(Re)Writing Pasts and Futures’, before going to listen to JJ Bola perform some of his poetry and then discuss his work with Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire.

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L-R: Radhika Swarup (chair), Robin Yasmin-Kassab, Leila Aboulela, Joan Anim-Addo, Sareeta Domingo

The first thing that was immediately noticeable was the make-up of the audience. I’ve been to a number of literary events and they’re dominated by white people, on and off stage. For the first time, I was in the minority – and hurrah for that. If publishers are wondering where their audience is for books by people of colour, they were there in the Free Word Centre and the Betsy Trotwood on Saturday and Sunday. They were on Twitter following people who were live tweeting from the events.

The other thing that became apparent as the weekend went on was how many women were on stage. Not just as speakers, but charing panels and events too. I mean, imagine, everyone treated as equals.

The first panel discussed liberation in literature: what that meant for them, how they were oppressed or pigeonholed as writers and readers. (Note: I’m only going to share the comments from women as that’s what this blog’s all about. If you want to read more, check out #BareLit16.) Joan Anim-Addo commented on the statistic that African Caribbean children perform far below average at reading. I don’t think anyone’s considered the literature these children are given, she said. She went on to talk about black people being represented in the literary world. They’re told their writing won’t sell – so was Toni Morrison.

Sareeta Domingo writes romantic fiction and pointed out that you don’t see many characters of colour in that genre, nor many writers of colour writing it. She went on to say  that readers might be surprised to empathise with a character from another background but how would they know if they don’t exist?

Radhika Swarup, whose novel Where the River Parts is about a romance between a Hindu and a Muslim set against the partition of India, said she’s had reviews commenting on the smell of turmeric. ‘There’s no turmeric in the book.’

Leila Aboulela talked about fiction being more liberating for non-fiction. The latter attracts hateful comments online. She briefly discussed her work-in-progress about a Russian woman. She says she worked her way into the character through motherhood, which is something they have in common.

The panel ended with Swarup saying, ‘The ultimate liberation is in writing for yourself’.

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L-R: Haris Dirrani, Tosin Coker, Patrick Vernon (chair), Zen Cho, Tendai Huchu

The (Re)Writing Pasts & Futures panel focused on Historical Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Sci-Fi and Afrofuturism. Zen Cho talked about growing up reading books and thinking only white people had adventures. She processed the world through writing and felt she was lacking because she didn’t see herself in the texts she was reading. She said she felt a responsibility ‘to be the right kind of person’ because she’s one of very few published Malaysian writers.

Tosin Coker felt similarly. She said that reading so many Western novels triggered an identity crisis for her. Writing sci-fi gave her a different perspective on herself as an African, as a black person, as a woman. ‘Sci-Fi’s not as fictional as we think.’ Coker said that she thinks it’s easier for writers of colour to understand each other’s cultures as they use more analogies and descriptions than white writers. She commented on other differences in perspectives too, giving the example of insults. People of colour use comparisons, white people swear.

I’ve spent years saying I don’t read/like Sci-Fi but I’ve come to realise that this is a bare-faced lie. I encourage you all to look up the work of these writers. They began the panel with each of them reading to us from their work and it was fantastic.

I’m going to mention JJ Bola briefly here as much of what he discussed about his work on Saturday was to do with masculinity and feminism. Again, I recommend you take a look at #BareLit16.

I was disappointed to miss two events on Sunday morning: Catherine Johnson/Peter Kalu and Sunny Singh/Malika Booker. Foolishly I managed to leave my notebook – with some notes for my PhD work inside – at Waterstones Piccadilly at The Word Factory event on Saturday night so spent Sunday morning retrieving that. (Huge thanks to the Waterstones staff who were brilliant, particularly Rob Chilver and the security guard at the shop.)

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L-R: Sherif Dhaimith (Darf Publishing), Esther Kuforji (The Jeli)(chair), Crystal Mahey-Morgan (Own It), Valerie Brandes (Jacaranda Books)

The first event I saw on Sunday then was ‘What lies ahead for publishing?’ Each of the panelists had slightly different perspectives on this due to their own current ventures.

Valerie Brandes, publisher at Jacaranda Books, talked about how they’re looking for new voices, previously unpublished writers, and that she works with them on the raw manuscripts that are submitted to her. She also collaborates with authors to work out who their audience is. She said authors often have a strong sense of who they are and their social media profiles support this.

Esther Kuforji commented that The Jeli include poems, flash and writing prompts below the picture on their Instagram feed, using social media to share and promote stories. She also commented that if you submit to The Jeli and they decide not to publish you at that point, she’s still keen to work with people again later on.

Crystal Mahey-Morgan talked about how it was liberating not to have to dilute things for the corporate world. (She worked for PRH for five years.) Editors don’t always know best when it comes to certain voices and stories. That’s the difference between the mainstream and independent publishers who specialise. She works on multi-media projects and quoted the statistics that the UK’s 16-24 year olds are the most illiterate in the developed world but also the most tech-savvy. She sees smartphones as a way to bring multimedia projects to new audiences, seeing a link between technology and oral culture.

She talked about her London accent, telling us she was criticised for it when she first began working in publishing, ‘Don’t let anyone make you feel it’s not for you’. She also called for ‘diversity with diversity: we’re not all the same’ and that she was ‘fed up of talking about diversity; why aren’t we talking about universality?’.

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L-R: Kelly Kanayama (chair), RAMZEE, Asia Alfasi

My final event, bar Courttia Newland’s closing speech, was ‘Comics in Context’. Like Sci-Fi, a couple of years ago I would have told you that I didn’t read/like comics/graphic novels but then came Persepolis and Alison Bechdel and a change of mind on my part.

Asia Alfasi came from Libya to Scotland – the east end of Glasgow, to be precise – as a young girl. In Libya she read Western classics in graphic novel form. When she moved to Scotland, she found a barrier between her and her peers that wasn’t just to do with her moving from another country, but was also because she was the first girl in her area to wear the hijab. She lived in the library and learnt about UK culture through literature. She began to create her own comics because she couldn’t see herself represented. She said she can’t think of a better medium for someone who wants to tell a story and have complete control.

‘The odds aren’t always stacked against you,’ she said. She talked about travelling to China and Russia, amongst others, and how people at comic conventions there were interested in her work. She said Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and so on have been done so many times in so many different ways that there’s a thirst for new tales that aren’t the Western staples.

The whole weekend was absolutely fantastic. I was introduced to writers I’d never heard of, and might never have heard of, before. I heard some interesting discussions. I met lots of brilliant people. What’s stuck with me though is a comment from my friend (of colour) who I used to work with when I taught in London and who was there on the Sunday. She said it was the first time she’d been to a literary event and left feeling positive and inspired. And that, surely, is what it was all about. Bring on Bare Lit 2017!

The festival are in the process of uploading footage of all the events to the Media Diversified YouTube channel.

My Plans for #ReadDiverse2016

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I don’t do New Year resolutions. I learnt some years ago that those vague statements – I’m going to do more exercise/eat less/learn a language – don’t last beyond mid-January. But goals do, at least specific ones you can work towards and extend, if necessary, or not beat yourself up about if you don’t quite fulfil them do.

Last year, I set a goal to read more books by women of colour. I joined Eva Stalker’s #TBR20 project with the caveat that I’d continue to read review copies I was sent as well. I still haven’t completed all the reviews of those books yet but the main effect it had was I paid attention to what I was reading, specifically who the writer was. In 2014 10% of my reading was by writers of colour, in 2015, it was 32%. The unintended consequence of this, however, is that the number of books I read by writers from LGBTQIA communities plummeted from 6% to 0.5% and books in translation from 11% to 0.6%. (The latter was partly a consequence of me not really taking part in #WITMonth due to personal circumstances but still, it’s poor.)

The plan for this year then: more reviews of books by women of colour; more reviews of books by women who identify as LGBT; a proper focus on women in translation in August.

I’m aiming for 50% of my reviews to be of books by women of colour. I’ve changed the focus from the percentage I’m reading with the intention of even coverage on here. What I noticed last year was that although I was reading books from my #TBR20 stack, when I got back to reading and reviewing after my break in the summer, I was focusing on books by white women, the ‘big titles’. As a consequence, I have a stack of review copies by women of colour. These are now at the top of the pile.

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I’ve also created a new #TBR20 pile focusing on writers from the LGBT communities. And here they are…

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IMG_0335Half of the books (those on the left, except Anaïs Nin who appears to be in the wrong pile) are by women of colour. I used several sources to help me compile the list: More than 50 books by Queer People of Color by zarahwithaz; 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About Black Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women on Autostraddle;100+ LGBTQ Black Women You Should Know: The Epic Black History Month Megapost also on Autostraddle, and the Wikipedia list of LGBT Writers.

Elsewhere, you might have seen on social media that Media Diversified have created Bare Lit Festival (@BareLit). ‘A literary festival focused entirely on writers of colour’, which will run from the 26th – 28th February 2016.

We want to counteract the trend of equating literary merit with whiteness by highlighting the amazing variety of work currently being produced by BAME writers. That’s why we’ve put together an exciting programme of performances, panels and conversations — such as ‘Second-Generation Poets in Exile’, ‘What Does Liberation in Literature Look Like?, Sci Fi vs. Afrofuturism’ and much more.

I’ve already bought my weekend pass and you can support the festival by buying passes or single event tickets now and helping them to raise the cost of running the event. Find out more on their Indiegogo page.

Mention of Media Diversified brings me to this interesting piece, posted a couple of days ago: Decolonise, not Diversify by Kavita Bhanot. I agree with everything she says.

Speaking only for myself, I didn’t get involved with #diversedecember because I thought it would change the world but I did hope it might lead some people to question their world view or the view the white-dominated world imposes upon us.

During December, Salena Godden (@salenagodden) posted a video of her performing her new poem ‘I Count’. ‘I have become a woman that counts…’ she begins. Yep. I became a woman that counts when I started this blog. I don’t think it’s a solution and it’s certainly not going to bring about one on its own, but while ever white/male/hetero/cis domination exists, I’ll count. For me, #ReadDiverse2016 (@ReadDiverse2016) is about hoping you’ll join in that count too.

In the Media, November 2015, 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 traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

There have been a number of powerful pieces published over the last fortnight by women about women reading books by white men and trying to please an establishment that loves white male writers. Rebecca Solnit wrote, ‘80 Books No Woman Should Read‘ on Literary Hub and Sigal Samuel responded with ‘What Women Can Learn From Reading Sexist Male Writers‘ on Electric Literature. Jennifer Weiner wrote, ‘If you enjoyed a good book and you’re a woman, the critics think you’re wrong‘ in The Guardian but the big one was Clare Vaye Watkins ‘On Pandering‘ published on the Tin House blog. On Flavorwire, Alison Herman published a response titled, ‘Claire Vaye Watkins’ “On Pandering” Describes a Specific Experience of Writing and Gender, But Has the Power to Start a Broader Conversation‘ and it did. Nichole Perkins wrote ‘A Response to “On Pandering” in the LA Times; Aya de Leon wrote, ‘In Gratitude for Claire Vaye Watkins and my own Fatherlessness as a Woman Writer‘ on her blog; Marie Phillips wrote, ‘Writers: we need to stop pandering to the white, male status quo‘ on The Pool; Katy Waldman argued, ‘Claire Vaye Watkins’ Tin House Essay “On Pandering” Has a Very Limited Definition of “Male Writers”‘ on Slate

The woman with the most publicity is Patricia Highsmith. The film of her novel The Price of Salt, renamed Carol was released on Friday (in the UK). In the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot writes ‘Forbidden Love: The Passions Behind Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt‘; there’s an interview with Phyllis Nagy, screenwriter and Highsmith’s friend on Bookanista; Frank Rich wrote, ‘Loving Carol‘ on Vulture

The Irish Book Awards were announced this week, including wins for Anne Enright, Louise O’Neill, Susan Jane White, Jane Casey, Sinead Moriarty,Sara Baume and The Long Gaze Back anthology edited by Sinéad Gleeson. While in London, the Costa Book Awards shortlists were announced.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists: