Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2016
This year has been one of consolidation rather than of huge change for the Challenge, as we got used to our self-hosted site to which we moved in 2015. The big advantage of this move was that it enabled us to produce a single searchable database of all reviews logged since the challenge started. It now contains reviews for nearly 3,600 books across all forms and genres of Australian women’s writing, an increase of 20% on last year’s total. A good achievement n’est-ce pas?
Once again the Challenge ran some special events during the year, achieved some milestones, and introduced some new initiatives. These include:
- Five Years Old: Our big milestone is that we turned 5 in November, as our instigator Elizabeth Lhuede announced in a post. She has been working hard on analysing our achievements, noting the areas in which we have made some great contributions and those which could do with some more focus.
- New Facebook Page: We now have a new Facebook Page – Reading Australian Women Writers. It’s designed to encourage more immediate discussion of Australian women’s books and between readers of these books (of course). Do join in, the more the merrier (as they say)
- Women writers of migrant heritage: Eileen Chong, Lee Koffman and Michelle Cahill
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women writers: Melissa Lucashenko
- Women writers with a disability: Amanda Think and #weneeddiversebooksau
- Special activities and posts including the Bingo Challenge, and Elizabeth Lhuede’s Book Baits posts
A big thanks to author/researcher Jessica White for her special posts on diversity – the Migrant heritage, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage, and writers with a disability posts – and to Kelly (Orange Pekoe Reviews) for creating the Bingo Challenge, which we hope to run again in 2017. And a shout out too to Brona, Debbie Robson and Elizabeth who often commented on my AWW round-up posts.
The Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is the only challenge I do (or have ever done). This year I posted 30 reviews for the challenge, three more than last year. I managed a similar variety in my reading, but only dipped once into my TBR pile (to read part of Christina Stead’s Ocean of story for Lisa’s ANZLitLovers’ Christina Stead Week). Last year, I challenged myself to tackle my TBR pile and I failed, miserably. I also let the ball drop this year in one of my favourite areas, classic Australian women’s fiction. I’m therefore making no promises, setting no goals (at least publicly!) for next year.
Anyhow, here’s my list of works read for this year (with links to the reviews):
- Debra Adelaide, The women’s pages (General fiction)
- Robyn Cadwallader, The anchoress (Historical fiction)
- Elizabeth Harrower, In certain circles (Historical/General fiction)
- Sonya Hartnett, Golden boys (General/Coming-of-age fiction)
- Kate Jennings, Moral hazard (General/Business fiction)
- Dorothy Johnson, Through a camel’s eye (Crime fiction)
- Sarah Kanake, Sing fox to me (General fiction)
- Julie Proudfoot, The neighbour (Genre-bender)
- Josephine Rowe, A loving, faithful animal (General/War fiction)
- Anna Spargo-Ryan, The paper house (General fiction)
- Ariella Van Luyn, Treading air (Historical fiction)
- Charlotte Wood, The natural way of things (Dystopian fiction)
- Larissa Behrendt, “Under skin, in blood” (Short story)
- Tegan Bennett Daylight, Six bedrooms (Short story collection)
- Elizabeth Harrower, A few days in the country, and other stories (Short story collection)
- Christina Stead, Introduction: “Ocean of story” (Short story)
- Christina Stead, Ocean of story, Pt. 1: The early years – Australia (Section of short story collection)
- Cassie Flanagan Willanski, Here where we live (Short story collection)
POETRY and VERSE NOVELS
- Leah A, Ten silly poems by a ten year old (Poetry collection)
- Ali Cobby Eckermann, Ruby moonlight (Historical fiction verse novel)
- Emma Ayres, Cadence: Travels with music (Memoir)
- Georgia Blain, Births deaths marriages (Memoir essay collection)
- Anna Rosner Blay, Sister, sister (Memoir/Biography)
- Helen Garner, Everywhere I look (Essay collection)
- Bidda Jones (and Julian Davies), Backlash: Australia’s conflict of values over live export (Politics/Activism/Environmental literature)
- Jane Jose, Places women make (Social history/Urban studies)
- Bianca Nogrady (ed), The best Australian science writing 2015 (Essay anthology)
- Halina Rubin, Journeys with my mother (Memoir/Biography)
- Susan Varga, Heddy and me (Memoir/Biography)
- Fiona Wright, Small acts of disappearance (Memoir essay collection)
As in each year, there are subtle differences in this year’s list, though none are big enough to suggest my reading tastes have changed! For example, last year 48% of the reviews were for novels, while this year only 40% were. Half of these were debut novels. This year saw a return to 2014’s heavy emphasis on Memoir in my non-fiction reading, though there was some interesting playing with form. Not only were a couple of memoirs told through essays, but I also read three mother-daughter stories which combined elements of memoir with biography.
Anyhow, if you are interested in the challenge, you can check it out here. The 2017 sign up form is ready so do consider joining up, as we welcome all – women and men – to join us. I’ll be there again. The challenge is also on Facebook, Twitter (@auswomenwriters), GoodReads and Google+.
Finally, a big thanks to Elizabeth and the rest of the team – including Lewis, our wonderful database developer – for making it all such a cooperative, and enjoyable experience. I look forward to seeing what 2017 brings.
* This challenge was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in 2012 in response to concerns in Australian literary circles about the lack of recognition for women writers. I am one of the challenge’s volunteers – with responsibility for the Literary and Classics area.