For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net Championing Books by Women Fri, 05 Feb 2016 15:54:27 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 For Books' Sake: Championing Writing by Women since 2010. Your regular monthly dose of brilliant books, fierce feminism, music and more. Presented by Zoe Grisedale-Sherry. For Books' Sake no For Books' Sake jane@forbookssake.net jane@forbookssake.net (For Books' Sake) Books, Feminism, Music and More For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Podcast_Logo.jpg http://forbookssake.net Borough Press to publish novel depicting Syrian refugee crisis http://forbookssake.net/2016/02/02/30670/ Tue, 02 Feb 2016 14:25:45 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30670 Syria’s refugee crisis has claimed the lives of more than 320,000 people, with over 11 million having fled their homes as a result of the conflict.

An Unsafe Haven
New book by Commonwealth Writers Prize winner, Nada Awar Jarrar...

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Syria’s refugee crisis has claimed the lives of more than 320,000 people, with over 11 million having fled their homes as a result of the conflict.

An Unsafe Haven

Behind these devastating figures, there are, of course, individual lives, struggles and hopes. This has led non-fiction and fiction writers to try to give voice to the refugees involved. Borough Press announced yesterday that they will be publishing a new novel by the Commonwealth Writers Prize winner, Nada Awar Jarrar, inspired by the crisis and its effects. This follows the news of Weidenfeld & Nicolson’s plans to publish Jonathan Dean’s “meditation on what it means to be a refugee,” I Must Belong Somewhere, in 2017.

Jarrar’s book, An Unsafe Haven, is set in modern Beirut and follows the Syrian refugee crisis through the eyes of four characters. Jarrar was born in Lebanon but, twenty years ago, was forced to flee the country when civil war broke out. She is currently based in Beirut. Cassie Browne, commissioning editor at Borough Press, said of the acquisition:

This is a novel written with courage and sensitivity“I am extremely proud to be publishing Nada Awar Jarrar’s An Unsafe Haven. Her unique perspective on contemporary Lebanon and the effects of the Syrian war has produced an extraordinarily eloquent novel about the struggles of a region that are lived out in the daily routines of Beirut’s people. The sense of utter displacement woven through is keenly felt, and makes for a heartrending reading experience. This is a novel written with courage and sensitivity.”

This is, of course, far from the first time that authors have engaged with the Syrian crisis. These publication announcements follow the hugely successful Buy Books for Syria campaign, which Waterstones launched in-store at the start of October 2015. The campaign has seen leading authors, including Hilary Mantel, Jacqueline Wilson, Victoria Hislop and Ali Smith forgoing their earnings on selected books of theirs sold in branches. The proceeds of these book sales are then donated in full to the Oxfam Syria Crisis appeal, which aims to raise money to provide aid and long-term support to the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the crisis. The campaign has now almost reached its 1 million pound target.

Prior to that in September, Patrick Ness launched a fundraising page to raise money to address the crisis, which saw writers from Marian Keyes to Philip Pullman, publishers to the general public pledging money to the cause. The running total to date is just shy of £700,000.

The success of these initiatives show the dedication of writers and readers to the cause of raising money for the appeal but there has clearly now been a further commitment from the publishing industry to engage with and present the stories of those who are involved.

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The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd http://forbookssake.net/2016/01/15/the-words-in-my-hand-by-guinevere-glasfurd/ Fri, 15 Jan 2016 09:46:57 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30458 Guinevere Glasfurd’s first novel The Words in my Hand is the imagined story of a forgotten woman of history, Helena Jans, a Dutch maid who becomes involved with Rene Descartes (the Monsieur) when he rents a room from her employer.

The Words in My Hand Guinevere Glasfurd
Guinevere Glasfurd’s first novel The Words in my Hand is…

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Guinevere Glasfurd’s first novel The Words in my Hand is the imagined story of a forgotten woman of history, Helena Jans, a Dutch maid who becomes involved with Rene Descartes (the Monsieur) when he rents a room from her employer.

The Words in My Hand Guinevere Glasfurd

Little is known about Helena’s life, but there are lots of facts that make her an interesting subject: she could read and write (very unusual for a maid at the time) and, despite her social standing, was afforded a place and status in Descartes’ life. It’s not hard to imagine she was a strong and determined character.

Helena lives in a world of boundaries, invisible lines that separate her from: women who come from money (although she notes that comes at a price), women considered ‘purer’ and, most crucially, men. She longs to be afforded the automatic privilege men have and frequently encounters barriers to using her skills and education.

The story beautifully illustrates how, but for social convention, women could have been positively contributing to shaping our view of the world, just as philosophers like Descartes did. Despite her single-mindedness and willingness to question the status quo, Helena’s skills are frustratingly under-used.

Helena lives in a world of boundaries, invisible lines that separate her from: women who come from money (although she notes that comes at a price), women considered ‘purer’ and, most crucially, men. Descartes and Helena’s love story is beautifully drawn, particularly the early stages. It’s real and tender and when he is gone she notes that “the space still holds the shape of him”.

Helena seems like a modern woman, seeing possibilities instead of obstacles and never asking for commitment – just for her Monsieur to do what’s right. She lived as many other women in her circumstances couldn’t. We are given glimpses into their lives. The restrictions that limit their opportunities are more sharply drawn than Helena’s, and don’t yield for them as they do to her stubborn push.

On seeing how little of Helena’s life was documented, Glasfurd says “Helena Jans. It’s like skimming a stone, that touches the water once, twice, three times – then sinks without a trace.”

The Words in My Hand is a great debut novel which, as well as painting a wonderful picture of 17th-century Amsterdam, finally gives Helena her place in history.

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The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells by Virginia MacGregor http://forbookssake.net/2016/01/13/the-astonishing-return-of-norah-wells-by-virginia-macgregor/ Wed, 13 Jan 2016 06:30:55 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30452 The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells explores the themes of: home and belonging, the stories we tell ourselves to retain our identity, how fear can drive our relationships and our power to transform ourselves.

The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells
The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells explores the themes of:…

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The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells explores the themes of: home and belonging, the stories we tell ourselves to retain our identity, how fear can drive our relationships and our power to transform ourselves.

The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells

The events of Virginia MacGregor’s second novel, The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells focus on the life-changing homecoming of the titular protagonist, whose disappearance turned her family’s life upside down.

Ella, Norah’s 15 year old daughter, has been relentlessly campaigning to find her mother since her unexpected departure when she was just eight years old. Her most recent attempt involving finding a virtual support network as @findingmum on Twitter.

She still idolises the free-spirited Norah, and is fiercely protective of her little sister, Willa. But, to add to Ella’s pain, six year old Willa believes that their stepmother, Fay, is their biological mother. Fay has, physically and emotionally, put everything back together at 77 Willoughby Street, a house literally falling apart for everyone except Ella whose life is driven by the aching desire to be reunited with her mother.

But when Ella’s wish comes true on a Bank Holiday Friday, her reaction is a shock to everyone, including herself.

The pulling apart, piecing together and pulling apart again of the characters’ lives is revealed through the distinctive narratives of: Ella, Willa, their father Adam, Fay and Norah herself. Through these interconnected individual perspectives an addictive plot begins develop as the family relive the past, and consider and uncertain future.

The fact that MacGregor hasn’t relied on the ‘absent father’ trope challenges the ideas about the inevitability of women carrying the load of family life which permeate our culture and media. Their voices embody: the emotional intensity of adolescence; the optimism and sense of fairness of childhood; and the disillusionment of adults who have abandoned their desires and ideals over time.

Thankfully, MacGregor never reduces her characters to the shorthand of a life stage. Instead she captures each of their complexities with richness and depth. The true protagonist is the endearing and insightful Willa who, ironically, others believe must be shielded from reality. But she is the one with the wisdom and intuition to discover the truth about people and situations.

Willa’s obsession with Fantastic Mr Fox frames the plot, highlighting Adam’s need to redeem himself as a father and husband. Her fixation with the book also emphasises a sense of a longing for community that is deep-rooted, not just in innocent children like her, but in all of us.

The fact that MacGregor hasn’t relied on the ‘absent father’ trope challenges the ideas about the inevitability of women carrying the load of family life which permeate our culture and media. Through the experiences of her characters, particularly Norah and Fay, she highlights how women’s choices and identity can be limited by patriarchal assumptions and structures.

MacGregor conveys warmth and empathy for these flawed, broken and often selfish individuals whose humanity readers will undoubtedly relate to. She uses realistic-sounding dialogue, and a vibrant and eccentric cast of secondary characters who propel the action forward. (That said, in the last quarter of the novel the sheer volume of action seems a little unnecessary.)

Coupled with an compelling plot, the psychological journeys of the characters are the true beauty of this novel and ensure its unputdownability.

 

 

 

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The Natashas by Yelena Moskovich http://forbookssake.net/2016/01/05/the-natashas-by-yelena-moskovich/ Tue, 05 Jan 2016 21:46:36 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30415 ‘There are people who leave their bodies and their bodies go on living without them. These people are named Natasha.' The Natashas is playwright Yelena Moskovich's dreamlike, but accessible, debut novel.

The Natashas by Yelena Moskovich
‘There are people who leave their bodies and their bodies…

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‘There are people who leave their bodies and their bodies go on living without them. These people are named Natasha.' The Natashas is playwright Yelena Moskovich's dreamlike, but accessible, debut novel.

The Natashas by Yelena Moskovich

It starts in a boxy room full of women who, curiously, have the same name. They are linked somehow with Béatrice, a jazz singer nicknamed Miss Monroe, and César, a struggling actor auditioning for the role of his life.

Paris is shown as a place where anything can, and does, happen, and its streets are lovingly represented. César and Béatrice are no longer young, and their dreams of stardom are being replaced by their lonely realities.

The novel is an eerie read which touches on social themes like violence and sexual politics. It’s beautifully written. The prose moves along smoothly – it doesn’t feel overworked or overly descriptive. Moskovich muses on going missing, and how it is differently represented in various languages: ‘In Russian, you don’t have to go missing, it’s a single verb. The verb sits next to your name and you’re gone. In English you have to work for it. To go. Missing.’ The language is beautiful and contemplative because it feels aligned with the pace and the plot of the book.

One of the book’s most enjoyable aspects is its strangeness. At times it feels like a feminist Murakami novel, transported to the jazz clubs of Paris. One of the most eerie things is that it’s never quite clear when this is set – it could be now and it could be fifty years ago. It feels wispy, delicate as smoke. Moreover, it isn’t quite clear if it is magical realism or something more realistic. Are these mysterious Nathashas prisoners?

The way men look at and use women is examined in detail. Béatrice’s turbulent moods aren’t worth ‘even those breasts’, remarks a man she has a fling with. Her dad and her sister’s boyfriend are creepy in their behaviour around her. Is Beatrice allowed a life of her own? She is kept in an aviary-like room, to apparently preserve her voice.

One of the book's most enjoyable aspects is its strangeness. At times it feels like a feminist Murakami novel, transported to the jazz clubs of Paris. Béatrice muses on a relationship with a former boyfriend and concludes that ‘they had shared no private complicity at all. Together, they had merely participated in the myth that brilliant boys are noble beings.’

Her nickname, Miss Marilyn or Miss M, was given to her by one of her parents. When modelling a new dress for her family, the women are suspicious of the reactions of the men looking at her. The novel raises questions about the autonomy of women who are sexual objects, or objects of sexual attention. Would Marilyn Monroe also be a Natasha, stripped of her personhood? This is what’s implied.

César, on the other hand, is preparing for a role as a psychopath. Unfortunately, he starts to identify too much with the role of the vicious killer. Why does he feel the need to follow women around the streets?

He is gay, was treated badly by his violent brothers back home in South America and starts to channel their violence in preparation for his new role. It is interesting to see a character channel another for a dramatic role, as many actors have done in the past.

The Natashas is an enjoyable breath of fresh air. It’s lightly written, offers mysteries, doesn’t always reveal its secrets and the characters are well drawn. It deserves to be big.

 

 

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A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt http://forbookssake.net/2015/12/21/a-notable-woman-by-jean-lucey-pratt/ Mon, 21 Dec 2015 11:58:22 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30364 The diarist has a unique relationship with posterity. Unlike a professional author churning out novels to bump up sales and career, the diarist contemplates a dubious future reader after their death. She wonders whether, and how, her words may be chanced upon by someone from a later generation, dissected posthumously, perhaps published, or perhaps never.

A Noteable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt
The diarist has a unique relationship with posterity. Unlike a…

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The diarist has a unique relationship with posterity. Unlike a professional author churning out novels to bump up sales and career, the diarist contemplates a dubious future reader after their death. She wonders whether, and how, her words may be chanced upon by someone from a later generation, dissected posthumously, perhaps published, or perhaps never.

A Noteable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt

Jean Lucey Pratt was a diarist, a journalist and published author in her own time. Her secret diaries, which she kept between 1925 and 1986, were not intended for publication. Thirty years after the passing of this unknown woman, a sense of voyeurism creeps over whoever reads this hefty collection of private ephemera.

Not as intricate and as elusive as Sylvia Plath’s 1950-1962 diaries (published in 2000), or as strongly profiled as Virginia Woolf’s 1915-41 ones (published in 1977), Pratt’s diaries are prosaic to the bone. Her legacy is one of attention to detail in the material world, and a subdued character full of self-doubt and self-deprecation. Bemused and mesmerized by the goings-on of high society, Pratt is less amused about society’s perception of unmarried women, of which she is one.

Written right across the mid-20th century, this diary of a single woman, who at some point begins to claim the term “spinster”, lets readers look through the keyhole into the rather musty and cumbersome world of dating in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

The abortive douche makes an unsightly appearance (grim as some may already know it to be, from Chabrol’s 1988 film “Story of Women” about a woman who performed such abortions on willing women during the war time in France, and was guillotined for her actions in 1943).

In today’s age of gramophone and blitz parties recreating the hedonistic 1940s, darker elements like this have no place. Yet Pratt’s diary is full of the heartache of a single woman not only because of her lack of a husband, but also because of her isolation in a society ill equipped to accept and nurture her. An attitude that, with a changed face, is alive in the present day. For this realization alone, it is worth following the struggles of this lovely lady from the past.

Her legacy is one of attention to detail in the material world, and a subdued character full of self-doubt and self-deprecation. Her romantic difficulties are hardly made up for by the hardships of domestic life during wartime and post-war austerity. Private reflections on family, sex, relationships, cooking or gardening interlope with a subdued chronicle of contemporary political events, sometimes with news clippings.

This publication should be a treasure trove to any historian of the middle classes and their everyday life in Southern England in the 20th century. Pratt notes down things she debates with herself, such as how to manage her fortune, and what the banker said; or the price of things (food, travel, clothes and tailoring); and the mores of society.

Not merely narrative, the text of this diary also abounds in “notes to self”. Imperatives on what must be done in the future appear again and again: “must do more x, must never do y again”, etc. As anyone who keeps old to-do lists in the house in the hope of one day getting all those things done will know, an archive of to-do lists can be a heavy burden on the psyche of its keeper.

The result of seeing them all collected in a big book is an almost magical record of futures past, potentialities and dreams. Which of the notes to self were heeded, and how much of the planned life ended up really happening, Pratt didn’t always write back to her diary. And the posthumous reader is left to fill in the unknowns.

As the editor, Simon Garfield, advises in his introduction, copious chunks of manuscript pages were cut out for the published version. One wonders if perhaps, those pages had the answers. But at 713 pages, this book is already inordinately thick, to the point of it looking gimmicky.

Perhaps, the idea behind this bulky formatting was to enact the encyclopedic character of such a long series of years covered. This is not a memoir or a novel, but a diary, composed in real time as things unfold, without hindsight or design. It perfectly reflects the formless and elusive shape of life and its purpose, and yet brings plenty of joy, because it discovers the emotional world in another someone, that all too often has to remain a secret and a mystery.

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Bringing Forth the BIG MAGIC: Ten Things To Take Away From Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic http://forbookssake.net/2015/12/17/bringing-forth-the-big-magic-ten-things-to-take-away-from-elizabeth-gilberts-big-magic/ Thu, 17 Dec 2015 09:00:52 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30128 Award winning journalist, Christobel Hastings explores the ten greatest creative advice from Elizabeth Gilbert's inspired self help book, Big Magic.

Bringing Forth the BIG MAGIC: Ten Things To Take Away From Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic
Award winning journalist, Christobel Hastings explores the ten greatest creative advice from Elizabeth Gilbert's inspired self help book, Big Magic

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Award winning journalist, Christobel Hastings explores the ten greatest creative advice from Elizabeth Gilbert's inspired self help book, Big Magic.

Bringing Forth the BIG MAGIC: Ten Things To Take Away From Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic

I picked up the copy of Big Magic one day in February, from a pile of proofs on my messy, envelope-strewn desk; curiosity piqued by the words ‘Creative Living’ emblazoned on the book jacket. At the time, I was world-weary and stressed out; creativity ebbing away as emails piled up in my inbox. In the midst of wondering how to shake up my life, I rather serendipitously happened upon the book that would help me to find myself again.

Creativity means big business nowadays. The internet is awash with self-help books, pep-talks, listicles and wisdom from self-styled gurus, all claiming that they could be the one to ignite your creative life. In the digitalised age, would-be writers have unprecedented access  to those select few who have made it – we can reach them on twitter, scroll through their Facebook, listen to their videos and watch them speak on stage – and switch off again, when we feel sufficiently enervated (or not, as the case may be).

When facing the mysterious nature of inspiration, one thing remains clear: the creative process remains a highly individual one. And with so many clamouring to offer their twopence on creative living, the whole process can run dry of true feeling. It’s all simple rhetoric of hard work plus determination plus talent equals success; but what of the turmoil, writer’s block, rejection and doubt?

Enter Elizabeth Gilbert, who has arrived to help you continue in the quest to find your creative magic – and acknowledge the trials you’ve got to weather along the way. Some have called Big Magic a self-help book, and personally, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Like any book of this kind, the takeaways will be personal and private, which is why you start out reading it anyway. This isn’t just a book for those of the writerly condition though, as creativity is defined in broad brush strokes. This is a book for everyone, about living your fullest, most creative existence, and getting to where you want to be through positive visualisation, persistence and above all, taking pleasure in your work. In a sense, Big Magic is a book that responds to the difficulty of modern life; giving us a bit of encouragement, keeping us inquisitive, stimulating our creation, helping us thrive. Here are my top ten things to take away:

1. On keeping curious:

Curiosity is the touchstone of Gilbert’s creative ethos. Curiosity, she argues, doesn’t demand spades of energy, unyielding passion, or tough-nut persistence. Curiosity is that “milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity”. Using a personal anecdote (the book is liberally sprinkled with them) to illustrate the potential of curiosity, Gilbert describes how her recent botanical masterpiece – The Signature of All Things – was borne from a whim to plant a garden in her recently acquired New Jersey home. It was a clue, Gilbert argues, that led her on an intrepid, and eventually passionate scavenger hunt to learn about nineteenth-century botanical exploration.

2. On deciding to live creatively:

One of the most potent messages to emerge from the book was the idea that no-one needs anyone else’s permission to live a creative life. As Gilbert succinctly points out, “human beings have been creative beings for a really long time – long enough and consistently enough that it appears to be a totally natural impulse”. Her assertion that creativity is a “birthright” is a gratifying one; erasing that niggling and frankly destructive feeling that in order to be legitimate you must continually justify your creative life. So too does Gilbert eliminate the concept that there are but a chosen few  “guardians of high culture”; instead positing the idea that we are all destined to create – and succeed.

3. On persistence:

Gilbert’s discussion of the stumbling blocks of rejection, fear, doubt and frustration that face those leading a creative life has got to be one of the most honest accounts of the creative process that I’ve ever read. Gilbert explains that it’s entirely natural to feel one or all of these things during the creative process; but, crucially, what matters is how “you manage yourself between those bright moments”. It is how dedicated and persistent you are when you feel rather down on your luck, that shows “a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the demands of creative living”. Gilbert’s messages meld the right mix of right mysticism and pragmatism: stop complaining, keep showing up, don’t wait for permission to make art, get things DONE.

4. On getting in the zone:

There’s nothing more maddening than having a dedicated writing day ahead of you, with all your home comforts to hand, to find that when it comes down to it, you can barely string five words together on the page. But as Gilbert argues, if you slob around in your pyjamas, and only feel half-arsed to create, how will you ever attract the Big Magic? Rationality-loving readers may not identify with Gilbert’s proposition that you must “have an affair with your creativity”, and make efforts to present yourself to inspiration like someone “you might actually want to have an affair with”; but then again I’m the kind of reader who is open to the unexplainable and excited by the possibility of magic showing up in my life. If there’s a chance inspiration will arrive on the scene once I’ve taken a hairbrush to my bird’s nest, then all I’m all for giving it a go.

5. On staying sane:

It’s a common truth that people in creative professions often expect their art to have a significant impact. They expect it to earn them money, to affect people’s opinions, to stimulate discussion, to win popularity. But in reality, Gilbert argues, we must not expect anything from our creativity if we are to stay sane. Dissatisfaction, after all, is not fuel for creative living; and creativity should be a joy in its purest form. The paradox that you must agree to is as follows: “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me, if I am to live artistically, and it must not matter at all, if I am to live sanely”. Gilbert is a strong advocate of the idea that living a creative life can be a joyful experience; and works to deconstruct the notion of the tormented artist suffering for his work. And as Gilbert’s TED talk discussing creative genius attests, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to produce incredible work, when in reality, we just need to keep making.

The overarching theme running throughout Big Magic is Gilbert’s idea that from the get-go, you must claim ownership over your creative life. She writes that “defining yourself as a creative person begins with defining yourself…stand up tall, and say it aloud, whatever it is: ‘I’m a writer’”. Or artist, musician, actor. The point is, that is doesn’t matter what your creative vocation is; rather that stating your intent will begin the process of “mobilising your soul”.

6. On courage:

One of the most uplifting passages in the book comes when Gilbert informs us that “we are all walking repositories of buried treasure”. In contrast to pervasive creativity-related myths of pain and anguish, Gilbert offers her own mystical theory; that “the universe buries strange jewels within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them”. Gilbert dares us into the adventures of discovery, remaining unflaggingly optimistic that we are each in turn walking gold mines. It is “the hunt to uncover those jewels” that is the prize of creative living.

7. On inspiration:

Throughout Big Magic, Gilbert uses personal stories to make sense of how creativity works in her own life. One such anecdote tells the story of how an idea for a novel left her and found a home in her friend Ann Patchett. Some readers will be sceptical about Gilbert’s belief that ideas are independent entities that move about with their own free will, looking for ways to be made manifest. Whilst you may not believe in the idea of ‘eudaimonia’ – that is to say, the “exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration”, the concept that ideas are alive and seek divine cooperation with the most “available human collaborator” reminds the reader to capitalise on surges of creativity when they do appear.

8. On authenticity:

It came as something of a relief when Gilbert writes that the age of originality is over. It can be painful, working hard to be continually edgy. Not, of course, in the sense that original pieces of work have no creative worth; but rather in the fact that it is more than enough to simply be authentic in your creation. As Gilbert points out, the same literary themes have been repeated time and again for centuries, even in Shakespeare’s time.  But it is once “you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours”.

9. On enjoyment:

Here’s a revolutionary idea: a creative existence can be a joyous and fulfilling one. Not the narrative of torture, anguish and frustration that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for many artists over the years. With Gilbert on-side, effortlessly cutting through the negativity and insecurity than surrounds our creative desires, and replacing it with pleasure and enthusiasm, the prospect of enjoyment seems a whole lot more attainable. Her unabashed joy in discussing creativity actually seems radical in the face of popular opinion that creative living is hard work; she brings embracing the joy of life back into fashion. As Gilbert explains, “saying you enjoy your work with all your heart is the only truly subversive position left to take as a creative person these days…it’s such a gangster move, because hardly anyone dares to speak of creative enjoyment aloud, for fear of not being taken seriously as an artist”.

10. On entitlement:

The overarching theme running throughout Big Magic is Gilbert’s idea that from the get-go, you must claim ownership over your creative life. She writes that “defining yourself as a creative person begins with defining yourself…stand up tall, and say it aloud, whatever it is: ‘I’m a writer’”. Or artist, musician, actor. The point is, that is doesn’t matter what your creative vocation is; rather that stating your intent will begin the process of “mobilising your soul”. Gilbert’s declaration of intent means that saying something aloud forces you to realise your destiny. The message here is simple: we should accept that we need to create, because it’s a part of our identity. We are already “creatively legitimate”, and nobody or nothing need prove otherwise. We should create gladly, even when the act of creating gets tough, and not worry about how it will be received by others. Accept your creative inclinations as gifts from the universe. In the end, Big Magic highlights all the excuses we use to keep ourselves from doing the work we are being called to do.


Christobel Hastings is a London-based freelance journalist, and has written for publications such as Cosmopolitan, Sunday Times Style, ELLE, The Huffington Post, The Pool, New Statesman and The Independent. Find her writing on her blog Calico Casa, or on twitter here.

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Sphinx Theatre introduces Bechdel Test for the Stage http://forbookssake.net/2015/12/10/sphinx-theatre-introduces-bechdel-test-stage/ Thu, 10 Dec 2015 18:08:23 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30276 A theatre company has launched a new initiative to tackle gender bias in playwrighting.

Sphinx Theatre introduces Bechdel Test for the Stage
Theatre company takes literary inspiration to tackle gender bias...

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A theatre company has launched a new initiative to tackle gender bias in playwrighting.

Sphinx Theatre introduces Bechdel Test for the Stage

It’s been used to take the temperature of gender bias in comics, films and television shows; now, the Bechdel Test is going to be adapted for use in analysing theatre productions.

Back in 2014, we reported on Tonic Theatre‘s pretty damning research findings that just 37% of roles on stage are for women, and the work of women playwrights makes up a mere 8% of staged productions. In response to these statistics, eleven high-profile theatres committed to tackling gender bias in their output. Now a smaller theatre company has launched its own gender initiative, specifically inspired by the Bechdel Test.

In case you’ve been living under a feminist-literary rock (unlikely if you’re reading this), the Bechdel Test was created by graphic artist, Alison Bechdel, as a way to highlight the lack of complex characters and plot-lines for women on film. In order to pass the test, a movie must feature at least two named roles for women, and those characters must have a conversation about something other than a man. Since it appeared in Bechdel’s 1985 comic The Rule in Dykes to Watch Out For the test has proved a useful instigator of discussions around gender representation. By the end of 2013, four Swedish cinemas had even started including a ‘Bechdel rating’ on all their movies.

the repertoire is just stagnant and is repeating itself with very small changes, but no huge step forward Now Sphinx Theatre has joined the conversation by creating its own test, in an effort to encourage playwrights and theatre-makers to rethink the way they present women on stage. The ‘Sphinx Test’ will ask how prominently women feature in the drama, whether they are proactive or reactive, how they interact with other women and whether they avoid stereotype.

Launching the initiative at the Actors Centre in London on November 28, Sphinx Artistic Director, Sue Parrish said the test was “the result of a lot of conversations about how frustrating it can sometimes be that it seems that the repertoire is just stagnant and is repeating itself with very small changes, but no huge step forward.”

She went on to say the test will be “in no way prescriptive” but “a way of helping artistic directors and people who commission at all levels to think about how they might address imbalances.”

The test will now be disseminated to theatres and organisations across the UK.

One issue that is less clear, is whether this test will also address the imbalance identified in representation on stage for BAME actors – something the Art Council also committed to improving in their recent agreement.

What do you think about the test? Can publishers instigate something similar when they buy books?

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10 Contemporary Short Story Collections to Read http://forbookssake.net/2015/12/10/10-contemporary-short-story-collections-to-read/ Thu, 10 Dec 2015 10:00:53 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30260 Aside from those written by literary heavyweights like Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood, short story collections can get overlooked when it comes to fiction review columns and recommendations. Here are ten phenomenal short story collections from the last ten years, most of them debut collections, which you might have missed… Jane Healey writes.

10 Contemporary Short Story Collections to Read
Jane Healey explores the ten phenomenal short story collections from the last ten years. Most of them debut collections, which you might have missed.

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Aside from those written by literary heavyweights like Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood, short story collections can get overlooked when it comes to fiction review columns and recommendations. Here are ten phenomenal short story collections from the last ten years, most of them debut collections, which you might have missed… Jane Healey writes.

10 Contemporary Short Story Collections to Read

 

  1. Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen: A Manifesto in 41 Tales by Marilyn Chin

Bawdy, raucous, strange, arch, profane, wickedly funny, and occasionally impenetrable – this story collection, or ‘Manifesto in 41 Tales’, from poet Marilyn Chin stands in its own category. Taking place in and around the Double Happiness restaurant in California, these stories jump from the voice of the protagonists Mei Ling and Moonie, to the fierce Grandmother Wong, the workers in the restaurant, customers, a fat carp fish, even the restaurant itself. A cacophony of voices and points of view, of styles and genres, as Chin explores and deconstructs animal fables, Buddhist scripture, Chinese ghost stories, kung fu revenge tales, radical Zen texts and minority-Chinese folktales. The stories in this collection might by boiled down to the description in ‘Cicada’ of “the cycle of feeding and mating and suffering” except for the way that love, and its sacrifices, is also foreground. Moonie says about the sister she mocks and fights, “How splendid, how ridiculous, that despite everything, I am inextricably bound to and am deeply in love with this silly human being.”

  1. Cowboys and East Indians by Nina McConigley

In this collection, set in Wyoming and India, characters grapple with questions of identity and with expectations of others and of themselves. McConigley explores darker emotions of jealousy and bitterness; protagonists feel petty or hurt and lash out at the world, like exchange student Sindu in ‘Dot Or Feather’ who steals from her babysitting jobs, Delia in ‘Reserve Champion’ who takes a doll after losing a sewing competition, and Rae, a descendent of Indian emigrants who leaves threatening comments on her coworker’s blog while working in India and feeling jealous of them “for getting India more than I did. Because they weren’t afraid.” The first story opens, “We were the wrong kind of Indians living in Wyoming” and the meanings of this statement are explored in depth throughout the collection with dark humour and richly textured settings. McConigley has a unique perspective on America and a unique way with metaphor – in ‘Pomp and Circumstances’ wind turbines are described as crosses and the protagonist thinks of her secret IUD as “her own broken cartwheeling cross inside her uterus”, watching a couple two-step for a single character is like “watching the hands of a clock go round and round”, and an adoptee trying to connect to her Indian roots is dressed in a Sari, turning “as they dressed me like a wound.”

  1. The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space by Pippa Goldschmidt

This debut collection is themed around science and scientists – some historical and some fictional – and explores the moral dilemmas involved in their work, the unknowable, and what it means to be human. The suffragettes interrupt the work of female ‘computers’ at an Edinburgh observatory, a benevolent lift is asked to calculate pi, Oppenheimer is alienated while studying in Cambridge, a telescope is turned back on the astronomers who use it in a troubled country, a thwarted woman sabotages her ex-lover’s experiment using her own cells so that “the lab-man would be looking down the microscope at her cells, growing and dividing. His eye staring right at her without knowing what she ever was”, Brecht is spied on while working on his play ‘Galileo’ in LA, a scientist is trapped in Antarctica with his love rival, Einstein meets a face from his past in the lift of his building as he grapples with gravity, and Alan Turing finds himself “trapped in his own test, imitating a woman” in the moving and tragic story ‘The Snow White paradox.’ Goldschmidt uses a direct, measured, and sometimes dryly witty, tone to showcase startling metaphors and imagery of stars, bodies, lab equipment, theoretical physics, numbers and cells; revealing how rich the world of science can be for fiction, and how unique this collection is.

  1. Wish I Was Here by Jackie Kay

A quiet and understated collection that sneaks up on you with its depth of tenderness and heart. Exploring themes of loss, jealousy and rejection, Wish I Was Here also has a wicked sense of humour. Many of the stories take place in engaging conversational monologues, sometimes in Scots dialogue, and there is a pleasing directness to the narration, an unsentimental treatment of difficult moments. One character in ‘What ever’ says, “You can get through anything wey the help o’ a scone” and in ‘How to Get Away with Suicide’ Kay deftly, and humorously, shows how the depressed narrator’s desire for the perfect suicide will paradoxically bring him back to life: “Christ, Malkie, he says to himself, if you’re going to kill yourself, you’re going to have to get a bit more organized.” Many of the stories involve older lesbian protagonists, characters not often represented in traditional media, and several use striking magical realist details like the woman who gives birth to a fox in ‘My Daughter the Fox’ and another who has grown up sharing the same face as the monarch in ‘Not the Queen’. The collection closes with a stunner – ‘The Mirrored Twins’ – a tender story about two male lovers getting lost during a mountain hike that might just move you to tears.

  1. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In this blockbuster of a collection Adichie explores some of the darker side of what it is to be human, the horrors of violence and unrest in Nigeria, and the dislocation experienced by Nigerian immigrants in America. In ‘Tomorrow Is Too Far’ “the amoral kingdom” of childhood is remembered; in ‘The American Embassy’ and ‘A Private Experience’ the trauma of shocking violence interrupts the narrative itself; and in ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, ‘The Arrangers of Marriage’, ‘On Monday of Last Week’, and ‘Imitation’ Adichie excavates the gendered and racialized experiences of four Nigerian women living in America. Adichie is a skilled writer; using the metafictional deftly in ‘Jumping Monkey Hill’ which ends gloriously thus: “she wondered whether this ending, in a story, would be considered plausible”; and a second person point of view in ‘Tomorrow Is Too Far’ and ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’. In this last melancholy story the protagonist explains her philosophy that “there was nothing to understand, it was just the way it was” and it is the consequences and tensions of this statement that Adichie mines to such great effect in this collection.

  1. The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall

A short collection of seven perfectly formed gems. Sarah Hall’s protagonists, all women, are brooding and detached from the world even as their insides are raw and exposed on the page. Shocking events and images splash into the carefully formed narratives and jolt the reader – like the dog with the bloodied mouth in ‘She Murdered Mortal He’, a runaway animal in ‘The Beautiful Indifference’, the fox in ‘Bees’, or the wounded horse in ‘Butcher’s Perfume’ – bringing to the surface a bloody, unsettling undercurrent. This collection is concerned with the wild; with people as animals, their bloodied bodies and how they move during sexual encounters or in nature. The land is described in clear but startling ways and as a topography soaked in its human past – in ‘Butcher’s Perfume’ the narrator paints a “landscape of torn skirts and hacked throats, where roofs were oiled and fired, and haylofts were used to kipper children”, and in ‘The Nightlong River’ “the ground would only ever half thaw until spring, like a clod of beef brought from the pantry and moved from cold room to cold room.”

  1. Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

A stark and powerful debut collection exploring the traumas induced by societal expectations for a series of women living in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and America. The subjects of the stories are dark – a man who loves his car more than his wife, a woman who poisons pregnant women to steal their unborn children for herself, an attempt at skin lightening that goes horrifically wrong, prostitution, domestic abuse, lesbian characters pressured to marry men, and cancer. Few of the stories end happily or with any kind of redemption and some of the stories contain artful echoes of others – identical names or situations – as if to show a circular, inescapable force of narrative. In ‘Grace’ the titular character explains: “Happiness is like water[…]We’re always trying to grab onto it, but it’s always slipping between our fingers[…]And my fingers are thin[…]With lots of gaps in between.” The language Okparanta uses is spare and direct; each voice is insistent and unflinching. This collection shows how devastating a short story can be and how much of a life you can fit inside twenty pages.

  1. Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

An astonishing debut, this collection of twelve stories reimagines Cornish folktales, weaving an enchanting world that is both familiar and strange. A woman turns into a hare, another into a standing stone, a man becomes a magpie, a daughter sees the ‘little person’ that has been her mother’s lifelong invisible companion, a wrecker haunts a young couple’s flat while chanting the shipping forecast, two children play in a boneyard of giants, and a widow searches for her lost husband underwater. Damp and blustering landscapes seem to drip from the page; houses are lovingly described in a homely fashion; and there is much concern about tea, toast, the heating, and a good coat. Wood’s metaphors feel remarkably fresh even as they also seem oddly familiar: a shipwreck “like an unlit bonfire”; a woman undergoing a transformation has toes turning to stone, “the weight of them reminded her of the marbles she and her brother used to play with”; a storm “thumping far away like someone moving boxes around in a dusty attic”; and rain “which appeared as suddenly and soundlessly as a face pressed against a window” in a story about an absent giant. A standout story ‘Notes from the House Spirits’ is told from the point of view of a house that tenderly watches and looks after its inhabitants who seem to flicker past like ghosts, mourning them when they have left, and turning the haunted house trope on its head.

  1. The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan

This collection of stories combines elements of Magical Realism, fairytale, steampunk and myth. Characters make paper men to soothe their loneliness, insert rental hearts to prevent heartbreak, encounter strange drowning girls, meet Baba Yaga and fall in love with her, run away with the circus, eat lightbulbs, lose children, become coin-operated automatons, sleep with their brothers, and fall in love with the empress in the palace. Fairytales are explored and queered, with the usual endings upended, but it is the human heart that is foreground – grief, loneliness, lust, regret and jealousy – and made fresh through the original narratives. The language and imagery of the stories is lush and surprising. A village girl is seduced by a lady who finds her “tangle-skirted and chicken-full”, in ‘The Rental Heart’ the protagonist says of her lover, “I did not love her enough to cough blood. I kept what was left of me close, tucked under the long soft coils of my intestines where Anna wouldn’t see”, and in ‘Origami’ a wife’s obsession with paper unravels: “By mid-morning, her waste-paper bin was full of crumpled body parts[…]On the journey home, her bus ticket became a tongue.”

  1. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li’s Frank O’Connor Prize-winning collection contains ten artfully effortless short stories, slices of life that show the dislocation of Chinese characters in modern China and America. In ‘The Princess of Nebraska’ the protagonist thinks of being in the “wrong place” and the “wrong time”; aging characters without jobs feel lost in ‘Death Is Not a Bad Joke If Told the Right Way’ and ‘A Thousand Years of Good Prayers’; and in ‘Extra’ Granny Lin is fired from her job for befriending a young boy against the codes of society, “all the people in the street seem to know where their legs are taking them. She wonders since when she stopped being one of them.” The wounds of China’s past live on, unable to be fully integrated, as in ‘Immortality’ where a boy “born with the dictator’s face” lives a tragic life under the watch of his community mourning the loss of their history. Self-sacrifice, for family members or for personal convictions, is another common theme – in the title story a father visiting his daughter remarks “It is what we sacrifice that makes life meaningful.” Li’s debut collection is most remarkable for the way in which her stories eschew the usual narrative paths of short fiction, how each story truly feels like a life captured on the page.

Further suggestions: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros, Claire of the Light Sea by Edwidge Danticat, Aerogrammes: and Other Stories by Tania James, One More Year by Sana Krasikov, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer, The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies, Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins, An Elegy for Easterly: Stories by Petina Gappah, Don’t Try This At Home by Angela Readman.

By Jane Healey


 

Jane Healey is a writer whose stories have been published in Tin House online and Paper Darts. She was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Prize in 2014  and the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2013. She is currently writing a novel. She tweets at @Healey_Jane .

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Political Animals: Sophie Mayer on Feminist Film Books http://forbookssake.net/2015/12/09/political-animals-sophie-meyer-on-feminist-film-books/ Wed, 09 Dec 2015 09:00:07 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30152 Even with the recent publication of Carol Morley's debut novel, 7 Miles Out, not many female filmmakers have also published novels (although Miranda July and Assia Djebar are writer-filmmakers extraordinaire). Yet, there’s a plethora of books that bring the magic of cinema to the page. From Virginie Despentes’ radical KING KONG THEORY to the lyrical works of Trinh T. Minh-Ha, the printed word has served as a vehicle for innovative female artists who – as we know – struggle to find the funding and distribution for screen works. Imaginative screenplay presentations such as Toni Cade Bambara, Julie Dash, and bell hooks’ Daughters of the Dust publication round out the ways we can engage with the variety of feminist cinema through the page. Author, poet and film critic, Sophie Mayer writes.

Political Animals: Sophie Mayer on Feminist Film Books
Author, poet and film critic Sophie Mayer explores and engages with the variety of feminist cinema through the page.

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Even with the recent publication of Carol Morley's debut novel, 7 Miles Out, not many female filmmakers have also published novels (although Miranda July and Assia Djebar are writer-filmmakers extraordinaire). Yet, there’s a plethora of books that bring the magic of cinema to the page. From Virginie Despentes’ radical KING KONG THEORY to the lyrical works of Trinh T. Minh-Ha, the printed word has served as a vehicle for innovative female artists who – as we know – struggle to find the funding and distribution for screen works. Imaginative screenplay presentations such as Toni Cade Bambara, Julie Dash, and bell hooks’ Daughters of the Dust publication round out the ways we can engage with the variety of feminist cinema through the page. Author, poet and film critic, Sophie Mayer writes.

Political Animals: Sophie Mayer on Feminist Film Books

“I know that my father’s suicide gave me the desire to truly examine what it is to live, to find a way to try and make sense of the world and to resurrect the lost. It is, without a doubt, why I became a film-maker.”

—— Carol Morley, 7 Miles Out (Blink Publishing, 2015)

In Carol Morley’s film Dreams of a Life, Zawe Ashton plays Joyce Vincent, a mixed-race woman who died in London – and whose body lay undiscovered for three years. Ashton does more than play Vincent, she resurrects her, as do Vincent’s friends and lovers whom Morley contacted through a classified ad. She used a similar tactic, in fact, to find people who remembered meeting her during her adolescence of partying at the Hacienda, recorded unsparingly and with black humour in her film The Alcohol Years. Now – after the international success of The Falling – she’s returned to her memories in a new form: a novel. And it’s just as compelling as her films, with a similar idiosyncratic rhythm combined with an open-hearted generosity. Morley is passionately and unsparingly curious about the world – including about herself.

The protagonist of Morley’s 7 Miles Out is Ann, stuck seven miles from Manchester in Stockport. Aged eleven in 1977 when her father drops her at school then drives away to kill himself, she spends her adolescence looking for ways to remember her father – and, increasingly, to forget him, or the pain of mourning him. Music, sex, alcohol, distance, stories: Ann goes through them all, only to find a clearer, more painful but stronger self-knowledge, one that leads her eventually to be able to tell others’ stories. Ann is and is not Carol (the novel is based on Morley’s own experience): the difference in their names marks the distinction that Morley feels in having survived her teenage self.

Anyone who has passed through adolescence (I’d say a difficult adolescence, but they’re all differently difficult), especially anyone confronting questions about sexuality, gender identity, class, or familial loss, will immediately be absorbed into Ann’s passionate and precise worldview, identify with her curiosity that sometimes goes too far for friends and family, her oddity, her creativity. The final words of the book are “I became a film-maker” and above all, 7 Miles Out is a paean to the sometimes-painful awareness that pushes a person to become an artist.

While recent years have seen memoirs by Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, it’s been relatively rare to hear anything about what prompted female filmmakers to get in the game. While the male filmmaker’s memoir or how-to book is a well-established genre, stretching back to Sergei Eisenstein and Robert Bresson, for example, there are far fewer books by women who’ve got behind the camera. As in all arenas of art (and life), masculinity is identified with authority and vice versa, so female filmmakers – who have existed since the beginning of film – have been taken less seriously. When Maya Deren, who kickstarted the American avant-garde, offered her description of what makes an experimental film on a panel, she was mocked roundly by the other panellists, noted filmmakers (not) Dylan Thomas and Arthur Miller who (yawn) took the opportunity to make sexual remarks about her while mansplaining her field back to her.

Unsurprisingly, her only book – An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film – was long out of print, but can be read in the brilliant collection Essential Deren. Having told Esquire that she made her films ‘for what Hollywood spends on lipstick,’ Deren is an essential guide to low-budget filmmaking and distribution even in digital times: she shot and edited her own films, and screened them in her apartment. For many years they were almost unseen – although lesbian experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer recalls that Deren’s short ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’ was the only film by a female filmmaker that she saw in film school in the late 1960s. Hammer’s book Hammer! Making Movies out of Sex and Life is as essential as Deren’s collected, and definitely sexier: from lesbian communes in California to musings on gender non-binary artist Claude Cahun, Hammer! is a collection of thoughts, process notes, diary entries, and short stories all held together by the keen, sensual intellect of a great contemporary filmmaker. Along with filmmaker/choreographer Yvonne Rainer’s memoir Feelings are Facts, it’s a guide to how second wave feminist film came into being, how to radicalise your own story and make art outside the mainstream.

Several filmmakers have followed Deren’s example in Anagram of combining creative and political insights as well as autobiography, as Rainer does. Virginie Despentes’ King Kong Theory is a personal essay on feminism, and is as lively and radical as Baise-Moi, the controversial film she co-directed with Coralie Trinh Thi, a sort of SCUM manifesto for the riot grrrl generation. Video artist Hito Steyerl and experimental filmmaker Martha Rosler have both published short, sharp looks at our changing economic, social and media landscape: Rosler’s Culture Class is a biting critique of the professionalization and middle-class dominance of art-making, and Steyerl’s The Wretched of the Screen offers both an exploration of the exploitation of unpaid labour in the arts, and ideas for how digital media can offer a critical platform (if not a salary). Documentary-maker Astra Taylor looks at similar ideas, with a more practical emphasis, in The People’s Platform, her guide to taking back the internet.

If you’re looking for more direct how-to guides, then there’s surprisingly few female-authored studies to choose from. Top of the list is Sally Potter’s Naked Cinema: Working with Actors, which demystifies a major aspect of filmmaking. It’s one that’s rarely addressed in film schools because it involves skills often seen as feminine: listening, being emotionally attuned, collaborating. Potter’s book, based on decades of experience, is a handy, readable study on how to work with people, even when the camera’s not on. Far from regarding her actors as ‘warm props,’ Potter sees them as co-creators, as her interviews with everyone from Elle Fanning to Julie Christie reveal. A screen acting guide by Christie would be an ideal follow-up…

Feminist film publishing is dominated, perhaps unsurprisingly, by American filmmakers, and by white women. Julie Dash and Trinh Minh-Ha are rare exceptions: Dash collaborated with bell hooks and Toni Cade Bambara on one of the greatest screenplay publications, the script book for Daughters of the Dust, which is a practical, spiritual and poetic history of the film’s making. Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s many books, most notably Woman Native Other and When the Moon Waxes Red are classics that combine theory, politics and practice to argue for a critical, complex cinema that doesn’t get anywhere near enough airtime. These books by filmmakers whose work viewers in the UK would struggle to see, emphasise something crucial that Hammer points out in Hammer!:

a film rests in a can until it’s screened but a book can be opened at any time by anyone in any country. It doesn’t require a darkened room, a special location or equipment. I thought a book could be a portal to my films. Perhaps my films, a life’s work, could reach a new audience through the words and stories of my life.


Sophie Mayer is the author of Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, out now from I.B. Tauris. She reviews film for Sight & Sound and The F-Word, and works with queer feminist curators Club des Femmes and industry campaigners Raising Films. She is a widely-published poet, and her most recent collection is (O) (Arc, 2015). 

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Every 16 Year Old in Sweden to receive a copy of We Should All Be Feminists http://forbookssake.net/2015/12/07/every-16-year-old-sweden-receive-copy-feminists/ Mon, 07 Dec 2015 21:00:41 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=30227 Publisher hopes book will 'open up a conversation about gender and gender roles'.

Every 16  Year Old in Sweden to receive a copy of We Should All Be Feminists
Adichie's seminal TEDx continues to affect change...

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Publisher hopes book will 'open up a conversation about gender and gender roles'.

Every 16  Year Old in Sweden to receive a copy of We Should All Be Feminists

When Beyoncé featured an excerpt from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 TEDx talk We Should All Be Feminists in her smash hit ‘Flawless’, mainstream understanding of feminism was changed forever. Now the printed transcript of Adichie’s talk is being translated into Swedish under the title Alla Borde Vara Feminister. Published by Albert Bonniers Förlag, it’s set to be distributed to every 16 year-old in Sweden.

Adichie’s long list of awards and achievements marks her out as a much loved and celebrated author. Just last month she received a Special Recognition Award from Forbes Africa for her contribution to literature, and was shortlisted for their 2015 Person Of The Year. But it is the prospect that every young person in Sweden will be given the chance to read the speech in which Adichie seamlessly intertwines her personal experiences of growing up in Nigeria with an analysis of feminism today, that the true scope of her influence becomes apparent. At a time when issues of gender inequality are increasingly prominent in public and private discourse, Adichie’s work could bring about real change in the political landscape.

The initiative is being piloted by Albert Bonniers in association with the Swedish Women’s Lobby, the United Nations Association, the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees, The Swedish Trade Union Confederation, Teaspoon, Unizon, and Gertrud Aström. The hopes of those involved are clear. Clara Berglund, chair of the Swedish Women’s Lobby, describes Alla Borde Vara Feminister as ‘the book I would have wanted to get for all the guys in my class when I was 16 years-old’, while Johanna Haegerström of Albert Bonniers hopes the book will ‘open up a conversation about gender and gender roles, starting from young people’s own experiences’.

When I was 16 I don’t think I knew what the word ‘feminist’ meant. I don’t think I knew the word at all. But I was a feminist. The book was launched at Norra Real secondary school in Stockholm, where a message from Adichie was played. She explained why she is a feminist, adding: ‘When I was 16 I don’t think I knew what the word ‘feminist’ meant. I don’t think I knew the word at all. But I was a feminist. And I hope that the 16-year-olds that will read this book in Sweden will also decide that they’re feminists’. With 100,000 copies already distributed, it seems certain that some have already been inspired.

Perhaps the rest of the world should take note.

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