Ladies in Literature: Reflecting on the Halfway Point of the Year of Reading Women

As we mentioned previously in SheRa Mag, 2014 was touted by artist and writer Joanna Walsh as “the year of reading women.” This culminated in a large following of #readwomen2014 tweets as many pledged to change their reading habits to focus more on creative output from women. In the USA, 82% of women read as opposed to 69% of men. Women also read more books on average, reading 14 books a year as compared to ten read by men. With this in mind, the lack of female representation in literature (whether amongst authors or reviewers) is highly concerning.

We’re just over halfway through the “Year of Reading Women,” and the long list for the prestigious The Guardian’s First Book Award 2014 was announced on August 8th. We were happy to see a clutch of talented females represented, totalling four out of eleven nominated authors. It’s not quite equality, but it’s a start. As the winner receives £10,000 and is guaranteed advertising in both The Guardian and The Observer, you can see why it is one of the most sought after prizes of the literary calendar. The books were selected by the reviewers at The Guardian but the really encouraging thing is the number of women featured on the readers’ choice longlist.

Last year saw the readers’ choice slot filled by the poet Claire Trévien with her haunting maritime themed collection The Shipwrecked House. That was groundbreaking in itself as poetry is often (wrongly) seen as not worth the time it takes to write as it brings very little financial rewards. This year’s readers’ choice was another left-of-field offering: Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan. The short stories in the collection by Tan are rich, vivid, and her voice will linger long after you read the final line.

So the people have spoken! If only the publishing industry would listen up and give more attention to female authors. The inaugural Goldsmiths prize winner, Eimear McBride, took seven years to get her book published and everyone knows how embarrassed many publishers were at turning down Harry Potter.

TARTT

Donna Tartt (source: salon.com)

Good Reads most popular books of 2014 feature female authors heavily and this year has already seen Donna Tartt win the Pulitzer for The Goldfinch. There have been many new short stories from Zadie Smith published online and the always excellent Sue Monk Kidd has also published a new novel this year.

All in all, the “Year of Reading Women” has so far been filled with exciting new work by female authors and a greater degree of recognition amongst prize givers. Keep your fingers crossed that one of the Man Booker Prizes will go to one of the three incredibly talented women on the longlist (Ali Smith, Siri Hustvedt, and Karen Joy Fowler). There’s still a long way to go until female authors are as publicized or rewarded for their efforts as their male counterparts, but with initiatives like #readwomen2014, steps are being taken in the right direction.

Title image shows May-Lan Tan, source: theguardian.com

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