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Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2012 Round-up

December 31, 2012
Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012 Badge

(Design: Book’dout – Shelleyrae)

It seems fitting that my last Monday musings for 2012 be devoted to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, partly because it turned out to be quite a significant event in Australia’s literary calendar for the year, and partly because I introduced it in my first Monday musings of the year. The challenge was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in response to growing concern in Australian literary circles about lack of recognition* for women writers here. This concern resulted in several tangible actions, besides this challenge, including the creation of the Stella Prize and the first Meanjin Tournament of Books being dedicated to novels by Australian women.

Elizabeth, I know, had no comprehension when she started the challenge of just how successful it would be. Not only did it end the year with around 350 participants, who wrote around 1500 reviews for over 550 authors, but it received significant recognition from multiple quarters, including:

  • Huffington Post, for which Elizabeth was asked to write an article
  • ABC Radio National, on which the challenge was mentioned at least once
  • The National Year of Reading, 2012, which recognised it as an activity in their program
  • Many bookshops, libraries and authors (too many to list), who got behind the challenge and promoted it on their blogs/sites

The challenge has infiltrated social media. It can be found on Facebook, Twitter (@auswomenwriters), and GoodReads, as well as on its dedicated website and blog. It has built up such momentum that it will continue in 2013, with a team to help Elizabeth manage it. I have agreed to be part of that team, with responsibility for the “Literary” area. If it sounds like the sort of challenge for you, please sign up here: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

As I explained in yesterday’s highlights post, this is my first ever challenge. I’ve discovered that it is normal to do a round-up post at the end of a challenge, so here’s mine. I signed up for the Franklin-fantastic Dabbler level, that is, that I’d read (and review) at least 10 books by Australian women writers in more than one genre. I’m therefore listing them by category/genre (but please understand that the groupings are very loose and pretty arbitrary! They are indicative only).

CONTEMPORARY FICTION

HISTORICAL FICTION

CLASSIC FICTION

NON-FICTION

ESSAYS

SHORT STORIES AND POETRY

What did I learn from the challenge? Principally that there’s a whole world of Aussie women writers out there that I knew little or nothing about. They are beavering away in genres I tend not to read and they have big followings, many of whom posted their reviews on the challenge site. The existence of this band of writers was one of the reasons Elizabeth started the challenge, because she knew they were scarcely known outside their specialised fields. I suppose this is the case with all reading categories: we tend not to know what’s going on outside our sphere of interest. But, I’m glad to have had my eyes opened, even if I’m unlikely to greatly change my reading habits. So much to read … and all that, eh?

* Somewhat ironically, this year two books by Australian women – Anna Funder’s All that I am and Gillian Mears’ Foal’s bread – pretty well scooped our top literary awards. While I like to see awards spread around a bit because there’s a lot of quality out there, it was good to see these two wonderful writers receive such clear recognition.

Finally …

A big thanks to all you readers who add so much to my blogging experience. I truly appreciate the encouragement you give me by visiting, by “liking”, and best of all by commenting. I hope you have all had a satisfying 2012 and wish you every good thing, bookish and otherwise, for 2013.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2012 9:17 pm

    I applaud the initiative, but…

    …I have to admit that the more the year went on, the more I felt that this was a bit of a crusade which actively ignored Aussie fiction written by men. I intended to read more fiction by Australian female writers, but for various reasons it never really eventuated (mainly because of a huge increase in the number of review copies of translated fiction I received this year).

    I won’t be joining in next (this!) year – if I read any, great. If not, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it…

    I understand that this is probably not the kind of comment you were hoping for, but I did start to feel uncomfortable about this challenge, one that became a lot more political than I imagined when I signed up for it.

    Anyway, here’s to a great 2013. I hope your books are all good – whoever wrote them ;)

    • December 31, 2012 10:41 pm

      Ah Tony, I’m happy for any comments here that are reasoned and respectful, not insulting, so your comment is fine. There is always a political element when it comes to recognition of women’s endeavours in pretty well any field you can think of. I didn’t think the politics in the AWW challenge were strident or anti-men, and in fact late in the year a male blogger joined the 2013 team, which the team is thrilled about. As you know I read a lot of fiction by men – including Aussie men like Malouf, Murnane, White, Carey, Winton, Temple, Featherstone, Lovitt, Croome and so on … but I also know that many women writers have been, and I still believe are being, overlooked. Every Australian for example knows Lawson, CJ Denis and Banjo Paterson but not many know our pioneer women writers besides, say, Miles Franklin. What about Barbara Baynton, Ada Cambridge, Rosa Praed to name a few? People don’t know them … I didn’t know them until I started investigating them in the 1980s. Having read their works, I don’t think the reason is lack of quality …

      I’m sorry though if the politics put you off … but I hope you too get to read a lot of good books in 2013. I’d love to join your J-Lit month, and have a Kirino, among others in my TBR pile, but I don’t think, unfortunately I’ll get to any of them in January. I’ll be watching the reviews though.

      • January 1, 2013 10:50 am

        Agreed, I just think that at times it was a little too political, spilling over out of literature into other areas. Also, I wasn’t overly impressed when (for example) tweets went out congratulating the shortlisted women for the Miles Franklin – but not the men. Some might say that I’m being a little sensitive, but if it were the other way round… ;)

        • January 1, 2013 5:12 pm

          Fair enough,Tony. I guess I saw that as being like Aussies congratulating Aussie Olympic sportsmen, or parents congratulating their child. Sometimes you champion your own, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t appreciate the others? You’re just pleased to see your interest/focus/choice do well. But I can see there’s an “eye of the beholder” in this and appreciate your giving an example.

    • seantheblogonaut permalink
      January 7, 2013 8:49 pm

      For the record I didn’t find it political at all and my reading and reviewing of Australian male writers was largely stable compared to last year. As for actively ignoring men well it was specifically set up to redress the issue of gender imbalance in reviewing so yeah it kind of ignores men by definition.

      I’d be interested Tony if you could point to things that made you feel this way, if you can (I not asking for time stamped tweets or anything :) )

      • January 8, 2013 8:37 am

        Welcome Sean, and thanks for joining the conversation. It’s great to have another male perspective on the challenge.

  2. January 1, 2013 1:29 am

    Thanks for your blog, Sue. I’m not sure why I missed the AWW challenge this (past!) year, but I’ve signed up for 2013 and have some exciting reads ahead of me, including Harrower. And good on you for helping with the challenge in 2013. I dip my lid! All the best, John.

    • January 1, 2013 7:51 am

      Thanks John … And thanks for your blog too. I always enjoy yor reviews and am thrilled you’ve signed up for AWW in 2013. I look forward to your reviews. And Happy New Year for 2013!

  3. January 1, 2013 4:10 am

    That is so fantastic that the challenge got so much attention! I hope it also meant more people read some good books by Australian women. I managed Miles Franklin. Maybe in 2013 I’ll double or triple it!

    • January 1, 2013 7:53 am

      Thanks Stefanie … It would be great if you could double or triple it … But whatever you do, just keep on blogging. I love the breadth of what you cover.

  4. January 1, 2013 10:37 pm

    Just lately I’ve been thinking I’ve been reading way too many women this year – not by choice, I guess I’m drawn to what might be similar. Right now I feel like reading a stream of men novelists!

    I’d be hopeless at a reading challenge though I do enjoy reading reviews. I’d like to read more Deborah Robertson and Thea Astley. Congratulations on achieving so much in 2012 and best wishes for a joyous and satisfying New Year. Catherine

    • January 1, 2013 11:37 pm

      Fair enough Catherine … do you have particular men in mind? I agree that I read women because I’m drawn to something familiar – not so much the subject matter as a way of viewing the world I think. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what that is but you feel it I think. However, there are a lot of great male writers around and I’d never read women exclusively.

  5. January 5, 2013 11:39 pm

    The AWW challenge impacted my reading in a way that no other reading challenge has done in all the years that I have been blogging and participating in reading challenges!

    I do find that I have to take active steps to read more male authors at the best of time because my reading seems to be naturally female author focussed but where it was most influential was in focussing my attention more on Australian. In previous years my goals were to read x number of Australian authors and I would struggle to make it, but this year the challenge provided the impetus I needed to exceed those goals! Bring on 2013.

    • January 6, 2013 8:05 am

      That’s great Marg. I guess i’e always been a bit Aussie focused but have been particularly so is once the mid 1980s when our women started making a bit of a mark again … As they had in the 1920s to 40s/50s. I loved it … Like you, I do like reading women authors … But I certainly don’t ignore the great men out there!

  6. January 14, 2013 5:31 pm

    I love the diversity of reads that you discovered through this challenge. I enjoyed the challenge too, and was very pleased at how well it did, active bloggers certainly participated at impressive levels, and then to garner national and international attention too was great. I’m looking forward to participating again this year, indeed I picked up my current book partly to kick off my Aussie Women Writers reading.

    • January 14, 2013 6:57 pm

      Oh good for you Louise … I’m a bit frustrated by having a few men on my plate at present (hmm… that’s not quite how I meant it to sound) and a Latin American woman. I fear I may not read an Aussie woman’s book this month, but I read read and reviewed a short story just to kick me off!

Trackbacks

  1. An All-male Australian Writers Challenge? « Devoted Eclectic
  2. Australian Male Writers' Challenge
  3. The Australian Women Writers challenge 2013 | Emily's Tea Leaves

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