Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

Challenge logo

For the last time, I am devoting my last Monday Musings of the year to the Australian Women Writers Challenge ( in its current form at least, see below). What a couple of years we’ve had. It’s hard to know whether it has affected the challenge or not but, anecdotally, our numbers did not increase over a period when more people were stuck at home. Were we too discombobulated to focus on reading or were many of our participants too tired from the challenges of working from home and home-schooling to read and review as well? I look forward in the future to seeing what sociologists and other researchers make of these years and how we behaved.

Anyhow, the challenge … it has continued to go very well. The full database now contains reviews for nearly 7,700 different books across all forms and genres, from all periods, of Australian women’s writing. This means that the number of books reviewed on our database increased in 2021 by nearly 700 books, less than the number added last year, but still a healthy 10% increase to the database.

My personal round-up for the year

These last two years have not been stellar ones for me, so my posting to the challenge was down (mirroring the overall trajectory for the challenge!) I posted only 23 reviews to the Challenge over the year, a few less than last year, but I did also read three essays I didn’t post to the challenge. I will include them here as they were by women and appeared in a book edited by a woman, Belinda Castles’ Reading like an Australian writer. I’m disappointed in my reading achievements this year, but it is what it is! Here they are, with links to my reviews:

Fiction

Non-fiction

Anthologies/Essays

This year, fiction (including short stories) represented around 53% of my AWW challenge reading, which is a little less than last year’s 61%, and only two were classics by my loose definitions. One, Elizabeth Harrower’s, was read for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Gen 4 week (Part 1). As always, I appreciate the impetus to read books from the past, because they do not deserve to be forgotten! In terms of that problematic word “diversity”, I read four books by First Nations Australia women.

My non-fiction reading was even more heavily slanted towards memoir/life-writing than usual, though the essays shift the balance a little, with a focus there on writing about writing.

Finally, as always, a big thanks to Theresa, Elizabeth and the rest of the team. I have loved being part of this challenge, partly of course because it equates with my reading goals so has never really been a challenge, but also because it’s been a generous and supportive team working on an important goal.

And so, 2022

Challenge logo

Most of you will know that 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 have been involved as a volunteer since 2013. In many ways, we feel that ten years on, the goal has been achieved, as women writers seem to be well-established on Australia’s literary scene, at least by observable measures.

Partly for this reason, the challenge will change tack in 2022 and focus on past and often under-recognised or overlooked women writers, from the 19th- and 20th-centuries. The new team overseeing this new phase comprises Elizabeth, Bill (The Australian Legend) and me. We plan to offer articles and reviews about earlier writers, and publish their actual writings – in full or excerpt form, as appropriate. We three feel that Australia’s rich heritage of Australian women’s writing hasn’t been fully explored and we’re keen to nudge it a bit more into the limelight.

This does not mean that the always popular contemporary aspect of the challenge will cease, but it will now be carried through our Facebook groups, Love Reading Books by Aussie Women and Australian Women Writers News and Events. Please join those groups if you are interested and haven’t already joined them.

Meanwhile, you will hear more about AWW 2022, when we get going in February.

39 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

  1. I’ll be glad to see the end of ‘classic’ as a category. For instance why is The West Wing a classic and The Long Prospect only a “classic”? I would think the latter was both better written and more likely to survive.

    The AWWC was a great initiative, is still a great resource, and Elizabeth and all you volunteer editors, past and present, deserve our praise and our thanks. I’m pleased to be a part of the new direction, and pleased too that Love Reading Books by Aussie Women is to go on and I commend it to all your readers (not least yourself).

    • Ah, Mea culpa Bill. I meant to check the date of the Harrower. Of course it was published in the 1950s so is definitely a classic, by my age-only definition. When I did my AWW round-ups I would sometimes sneak in a book that was around 25 years old as a classic, and I had a stupid momentary lapse that this was the recent Harrower. West Block (not Wing) I correctly remembered as early 1980s. I have corrected my description of The long prospect. I have no idea where my brain was when I was writing this, but probably with my little grandson.

      As for better written, I’ll disagree there. I love Harrower’s writing as you know, but I also think Dowse is an excellent and intelligent writer who played with form in West Block to convey some complex ideas about politics, people in politics, and a building. I therefore think it deserves to survive, just like Harrower’s does.

      Of course, many books I “accepted” as classic for the Challenge most people had never heard of, so their “status” as classic by traditional definitions was spurious, but my/our intention was to give air to older books.

      Haha re the Facebook site. Fair enough. I just don’t keep up with the blogs I want to, and they are my priority. I do pop into Love Reading Books by Aussie Women occasionally but I really need to spend more time reading books than reading more book sites!

      • I’ve seen endless fascinating discussions about ‘what makes a Classic?’ and today I am none the wiser. My working definition FWIW is books written a while ago that people are still reading today because they are recommended by other readers i.e. not experts, canon-makers, or publishers making money. There are obvious flaws in this rough-and-ready definition but it does weed out books that are just old and forgotten. Which can mean unjustly neglected, of course…
        Re FB: I choose to see it less and less these days. I haven’t closed my account but I am just not interested in it.

        • Thanks Lisa … that would be my rough definition too. However, for the challenge I wanted to include the old and forgotten too so my definition was broader, otherwise those books would have remained forgotten.

          I’m very sporadic on Facebook. I check my little notifications icon semi regularly and click on some links but only very rarely post.

        • That’s a shame Lisa. I don’t think I ever do… Or if I do it’s very rare. It may be related to how I’ve set up notifications but who knows as I’ve not looked at those settings for a long time.

        • I don’t think it’s a shame. I’m not interested in relationships that rely on Facebook. It’s FB’s algorithm trying to provoke me into FOMO!

        • We (Lisa and I) have discussed this difference between us before. I find fb holds cousins and former neighbours at just the right distance.
          On the other hand, my daughter’s account was a lifeline when I was in iso.
          We are suggesting Lisa you use it just for books, as you do Twitter, but I can understand if less is more in this case

        • FB is just an advertising stream. I don’t need it, and I don’t want its algorithms deciding what I will and won’t see. I am content to follow the blogs that interest me.
          Besides, I did check out the AWW site every now and again, and I found that it just didn’t serve my interests and that’s why I never subscribed to it.

        • Thanks Bill. Yes, like you I mainly use it to keep in touch with people I don’t have a lot of other contact with, like old internet reading group friends, old school friends, old f2f reading group friends who have left town. It’s quite invaluable for that and I don’t seem to get other irrelevant messages so, so far, so good, as you have found.

        • Except I’m not very active. I post about as frequently as you do! I have posted twice since July, both in the last month to do with Max. In June-July I did a couple of Melbourne trip posts. But it’s possible I have more friends who still post so my notifications are populated by them. FB doesn’t need to fill it up!?

        • Who knows? BTW I have posted a couple of photos lately, but that’s only because it’s the quickest most convenient way to transfer photos from my phone to my computer!

  2. Never on Facebook – not then, not now, not in the future. Sometimes I regret my detestation of Zuckerberg and his wily ways – like at this moment – but not very often.
    You seem, ST, to bewail your not-coming-up-to-scratch: listen mate ! – if all ‘literary’ bloggers did as much as you and your cohorts, there’d be no room for anything else !!
    😀

    • Fair enough re Facebook. I mostly go where my daughter goes. We joined Facebook together wh n she went OS over a decade ago, but now she’s on Instagram so I am too, and I like it much better. More fun, more informative, and on my feed I never see nastiness BUT I can see how teen girls, for example, could get sucked into other feeds that could be damaging to their sense of selves but for me it works really well.

      And thanks of course for your “talking to”!

  3. Thank you for the thanks! It’s been a highlight working on AWW with you and getting to know you better. I can’t think of a better trio for the new focus! And I’ll keep on moderating in the background over on Facebook. Happy new AWW year!

  4. Between you and Lisa, I keep spotting all these wonderful yearly wrap up posts. I’ve started making some notes for the ones I like to do, but at the moment, I’m dead keen to use my week long self-isolation to finish the four book reviews of the four books read this year before the new year begins! A big ask as they are all fairly involved and I want to do them the justice they deserve, yet also feel a really strong desire to start 2022 with a clean slate.

    The AWW challenge has been such a wonderful meeting place over the years, and I loved my time as editor there. Getting to know you and Theresa better has been a delight.

    I’m very keen to see what the three of you will come up with for next year. Certainly my experience in trying to read KSP’s The Wild Oats of Han earlier this year, made me wonder how this work (and others like it) could be preserved in a more reader friendly way. Because it deserves to be read more widely.

  5. Thank you Sue, for all of the time and effort you put into AWW. I have loved every minute (book) and very much enjoyed being part of the AWW community over the years. I will very much miss it in its current form (I am not a Facebook user, so you won’t see me in those parts next year). Of course, I will continue to read contemporary AWW (I usually read lots in the first half of the year with the Stella announcements).
    Thanks again.

    • Thanks Kate. It’s been great having your support – and I know you aren’t one who will need convincing to keep reading Aussie women. I was just thinking this evening that it won’t be that long before this year’s Stella longlist will be announced. Can’t wait, eh?

  6. I joined the challenge formally for a couple (few?) years and I enjoyed it but then I went through a stage where I was still reading AWWs but wasn’t officially part of any challenges and, then, I slipped last year (and I think the year before too) into reading for Bill’s weeks but never joined the two rivers. Am still looking forward to the changes you’re all exploring: it sounds exciting and maybe a little exhausting? as online bookishness does take time!

    Am tempted to wade into the FB and other social media debate in some detail, as just this week I’ve revisited my decade-old FB and have been trying to unravel my privacy concerns with my willingness to take part just for, as Bill has said above, the books. But it’s a big subject, so I’ll just add, generally, that it turns out that I am both pleased by some functionality that hadn’t existed previously (pleased also to have had some interesting “friend” “requests” waiting for me after ten years too…see Lisa, you can skirt all their notifications LOL) but also even more disturbed about their privacy policy than I was ten years ago. I might, yet, still find a way to participate “for the books” (but never on my phone, only on my computer); it’ll be difficult to balance my concerns with their priorities and I would definitely have to compromise though. If I do, I’ll certainly look for these groups tho!

    • Oh that not joining the the two rivers made me laugh Marcie. We loved having you when you took part. Bill never formally joined the challenge – that is he didn’t sign up on our sign up form each year – but he still posted his reviews. I think many did that, as we didn’t really focus on the challenge thing anyhow. We are looking forward to the “new” AWW, which reminds me, kick-off is getting close.

      Re FB. Are you concerned about privacy in terms of what FB knows about you and might pass on to third parties, or about what other FB members might access about you through? Re the former, to some degree I feel the horse has bolted on our privacy as soon as we engage online at all, so my focus is trying to keep an eye on my security. None of this is guaranteed, but trying to find a balance between using the best of the online world without risking too much! What’s too much? DO you only find out when it’s too late?

      Re the latter, I only play with FB around the edges. I did post some travel pics recently, which I do every now and then, but I rarely post on my home page, or on any other pages. I check my notifications and click on a few when I have the time … my brother posts pics there and he’s a great photographer, for example, and friends post interesting pics etc but I don’t have time to check every notification so I pick and choose from the list a bit randomly. I have friend “requests” from people I don’t know that have been sitting there for years too.

      I don’t take part in the AWW Facebook group because I don’t have the time to keep up with all the blogs I want to, and they are where I am likely to find the conversations closest to my interests. I love Australian women writers, of course, but you can’t really “curate” the AWW Facebook page to limit it to your interests the way you can with blogs, if that makes sense. The ABC (government broadcaster) here has a Facebook book club page which I thought might be closer to my interests but it’s so huge that conversations get a bit lost unless you read it multiple times a day – or so it seems to me – so I gave that up pretty quickly.

      Re FB

      • Although I have had concerns about member access in the past, I can see they’ve improved that substantially and you’ll have intuited that (due to publishing more) I have had to adjust my preferences on visibility. Their notifications aren’t visible for me, so that’s not an issue. So I accepted the recognized requests and deleted the rest (after ten years, there was a lot to clean up) and soon had such a small number that anyone would think the account’s a fake, I’m sure. LOL Just for books, I thought. And no photos, because that’s where I’d parted ways with their policy before, with their owning the images and using them without permission. But the third-party stuff happens automatically and the option seems to be to have access to the log of its occurrence, or to not be able to view that log: well, they do offer this free for a reason, right? I’m still looking for a way to refuse this, but no luck yet and meanwhile, there are four items in that log, from this week alone, while I was being attentive (or, so I thought).But I do agree that they are an easy target and even those of us concerned about it are likely engaging in other activity that leaves us vulnerable in different ways (comments like this no doubt LOL). I enjoyed reading the varied approaches in the comments here; it really is a personal thing.

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