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:
- Emma Ashmere, Dreams they forgot (short story collection)
- Sara Dowse, West Block (classic)
- Irma Gold, The breaking (contemporary fiction)
- Irma Gold and Susannah Crispe, Where the heart is (children’s picture book)
- Elizabeth Harrower, The long prospect (classic)
- Margaret Hickey, Rural dreams (short story collection)
- Elizabeth Jolley, “Hilda’s wedding” (short story for the #1976Club)
- Sofie Laguna, Infinite splendours (historical fiction)
- Marian Matta, Life, bound (short story collection)
- Helen Meany, Every day is Gertie Day (novella)
- Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, Black cockatoo (First Nations children’s/young adult)
- Angela Savage, Mother of Pearl (contemporary fiction)
- Nardi Simpson, Song of the crocodile (First Nations contemporary fiction)
- Leah Swann, Sheerwater (contemporary fiction/mystery)
- Alison Croggon, Monsters: A reckoning (narrative nonfiction/memoir)
- Helen Garner, One day I’ll remember this: Diaries, Volume 2, 1987-1978 (diaries)
- Sarah Krasnostein, The believer (narrative nonfiction)
- Wendy and Allan Scarfe, A mouthful of petals: Three years in an Indian village (memoir)
- Jasmine Seymour and Leanna Mulgo Watson, Cooee mittigar: A story on Darug songlines (First Nations lore/children’s picture book)
- Cindy Solonec, Debesa: The story of Frank and Katie Rodriguez (memoir, review coming)
- Marie Younan and Jill Sanguinetti, A different kind of seeing (First Nations memoir)
- Debra Adelaide, “Structure, serpents and Serena McGarry: Kate Jennings’ Snake“ (essay in Belinda Castles’ book)
- Tegan Bennett Daylight, “A big sunny shack: Cosmo cosmolino by Helen Garner” (essay in Belinda Castles’ book)
- Nancy Jin and Rosalind Moran, Cicerone Journal: These strange outcrops: Writing and art from Canberra (anthology)
- Sara Phillips (ed), Best Australian science writing (science writing anthology)
- Ellen Van Neerven, “Kinship in fiction and the genre blur of Swallow the air as novel in stories” (essay in Belinda Castles’ book
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
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.