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).
- Merlinda Bobis’s Fish-hair woman
- Susan Johnson’s Life in seven mistakes
- Catherine McNamara’s The divorced lady’s companion to living in Italy
- Deborah Robertsons’ Sweet old world
- Francesca Rendle-Short’s Bite your tongue
- Nancy Cato’s All the rivers run
- Kate Grenville’s The lieutenant
- Toni Jordan’s Nine days
- Gillian Mears’ Foal’s bread
- Elizabeth Harrower’s The watch tower
SHORT STORIES AND POETRY
- Thea Astley’s “Hunting the wild pineapple”
- Barbara Baynton’s “The chosen vessel”
- Barbara Baynton’s “Squeaker’s mate”
- Dame Mary Durack’s “Lament for a drowned country”
- Jeanine Leane’s Purple threads
- Melissa Lucashenko’s “The silent majority”
- Paddy O’Reilly’s “The salesman”
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.
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.