Brittany Higgins’ memoir will join a powerful Australian collection reclaiming women’s stories of trauma. Here are four


Marina Deller, Flinders University

Brittany Higgins has signed a book deal with Penguin Random House Australia. Not just any book — a memoir.

Higgins says her book will be a chance to tell “a firsthand account of what it was like surviving a media storm that turned into a movement”.

Memoir can help readers explore and understand trauma from a very personal perspective. Research suggests writing can be used to work through, or even heal from, trauma. It is a chance for a writer like Higgins,
who alleges she was raped in a senior minister’s office, to reclaim her story.

Here are four powerful Australian examples of women’s memoirs about trauma and abuse.

1. Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

book cover: eggshell skull

Allen & Unwin

Sydney-based author, writer, and researcher Bri Lee witnessed justice and heartbreak while working as a judge’s associate in the Queensland District Court. Two years later, she took her own abuser to court.

Although the abuse occurred in childhood, Lee pursued a conviction for the perpetrator (a family friend) in young adulthood. In her 2018 book, she acknowledges that the longer the time between an incident and investigation, the more potential hurdles may arise; her journey for justice is far from straightforward.

Lee acknowledges this in the way she explores personal, public, and legal discourse surrounding abuse. She jumps back and forth in time, and weaves her story with others in the Australian legal system in a blend of journalistic and personal storytelling. This approach also acknowledges trauma can affect memory. Details can be unbearably clear, difficult to remember, or both.

Through poetic reflection, and searing critique, Lee carves a space for her story.




Read more:
This week’s news has put sexual assault survivors at risk of ‘secondary trauma’. Here’s how it happens, and how to cope


2. No Matter Our Wreckage by Gemma Carey

book cover: No matter our wreckage

Allen & Unwin

From age 12, Gemma Carey was groomed and abused by a man twice her age. In young adulthood, Carey discovers her mother knew about the abuse. When her mother dies, the enduring effects of this betrayal surface.

Family memoirs are often taboo; family memoir about child abuse and complicity even more so. Despite fraught themes, the Sydney-based author and academic writes with rigour and honesty. Her 2020 memoir asks us to examine social — and family — structures which allow these injustices.

Carey’s tone is dark but inquisitive. She speaks directly to readers, incorporating research, and unpicking the threads of trauma and grief.

Carey emphasises writing about abuse doesn’t always fit a mould. In an interview, she explains, “Writing trauma stories that will change societal narratives around abuse and victims involves showing the contradictions that exist in trauma and grief”.

In her book, she reflects on her younger self,

I was broken and trying to work out how to fix myself … no one had ever given me the tools… I had to figure it out on my own.

This rebuilding took time. At 12, Carey buried her experience, at 17 she successfully took the perpetrator to court, in adulthood, she wrote her memoir.




Read more:
Friday essay: why we need children’s life stories like I Am Greta


3. The Anti-Cool Girl by Rosie Waterland

book cover: the anti cool girl

Harper Collins

In The Anti-Cool Girl (2018), comedian and writer Rosie Waterland reveals a turbulent childhood; drug and alcohol-addicted parents, absent family, death and loss, poverty, mental health struggles, and sexual abuse experienced within the Australian foster care system.

Waterland writes unflinchingly. She tackles difficult subjects with intelligence and humour. Each chapter is addressed to herself: “You will be in rehab several times before you’re ten years old”, or “Your foster dad will stick his hands down his pants, and you will feel so, so lucky”. Like Carey, Waterland acknowledges trauma often manifests in ways which might seem “odd” or “unconventional” to others.

While comedic throughout, Waterland approaches her trauma with care and, understandably, anger. She later lamented that she was unable to name her abuser, due to fears of litigation.

The Anti-Cool Girl, blending humour and pain, remains a testament to Waterland’s endurance and survival.

4. The Girls by Chloe Higgins

book cover: the girls

Pan Macmillan

Chloe Higgins’ sisters — Carlie and Lisa — died in a car accident when Higgins was 17. In her 2019 memoir Higgins — a Wollongong-based author and academic — asks us to consider the nature of ongoing grief and the way trauma stretches over different experiences.

Higgins’ grief influences her sexual experiences in often troubling ways — but the way she discusses it is revolutionary. She explores the weaponisation of sex, how it is a form of self-harm; sex and substance abuse, and the pleasures and pressures of sex work.

She jumps between stories of gentility (caring lovers, exploration, sex clients who felt more like friends) and horror stories featuring coercion and fear, threats, and sex without consent. Higgins examines her own experiences and links them to memory, identity, and control.

In her Author’s Note, Higgins reflects: “Publishing this book is about stepping out of my shame”.

These are not the only parts of me, but they are the parts I’ve chosen to focus on … Since that period of my life, I have begun to recover.

These books signal the importance of memoir as a platform where personal trauma stories are told, reclaimed, and witnessed. They are a valuable (and intimate) contribution to the conversation about trauma and sexual abuse in Australia.




Read more:
Inside the story: writing trauma in Cynthia Banham’s A Certain Light


The Conversation


Marina Deller, PhD Candidate, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From The Slumflower to Florence Given: why influencer books about feminism seem so similar



Polls have found that feminism has been declared unappealing and irrelevant to young women.
NakoPhotography/Shutterstock

Rebecca Wray, Leeds Beckett University

On December 9, debate began to simmer on social media over the resemblance of two popular women’s empowerment books released in 2020: Chidera Eggerue’s How to Get Over a Boy (published in February by Quadrille Publishing) and Florence Given’s Women Don’t Owe You Pretty (published in July by Cassell Illustrated).

Comparisons between the two have circulated for some time. Given and Eggerue, also known as The Slumflower, are both influencers (people with large followings and marketing influence on social media) and both promote a message of self-love, acceptance, and body positivity.

Earlier this month, Eggerue and some of her followers accused Given of copying two of her books: How to Get Over a Boy and her debut, What a Time to be Alone. This sparked fresh questions over similarities between their works in terms of style and content.

Both of the women’s books are eye-catching, with vibrant covers, large text, and colourful illustrations throughout. Eggerue claims her books sparked a new wave of self-help literature “that had never been seen before”.

While at first glance it could appear as though we’re looking at a copycat case, we shouldn’t forget that publishers like trends and will try to cash in on what’s popular. The cover style of both Given and Eggerue’s books chime with design trends from 2019 from their plain large fonts to their use of colour and illustration. Searching for either book on platforms such as Google and Amazon often brings up the other, and the latter even bundles the two author’s books together.

Popular feminism

Popular feminist books targeted at a mainstream audience are nothing new. Over the last 15 years there have been dozens of light, easy-to-read feminist texts, often with the aim of making feminism “fun”, “cool”, and even “sexy”. Laura Bates’ Girl Up (2016) in particular bears the most resemblance to these newer self-help books in the way it challenges sexist expectations through humour and quirky illustrations.

But there are countless examples: from Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism (2007) to Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s The Vagenda (2015), books like Ellie Levenson’s The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism (2009), Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman (2011), or Polly Vernon’s Hot Feminist (2015). While these books can vary in approach and style, a number put forward similar messages – personal empowerment, self-love, and the right to choose.

Some of these books have been criticised for selling self-help as a solution to injustice, rather than working with others for political and social change. In academia, feminists argue that popular feminism is at best a diluted form of feminism that treats it simply as a form of self-help focused on “what’s right for me” – a brand which can be packaged and sold.




Read more:
Five books by women, about women, for everyone


What all these books have in common is their desire to make feminism accessible to their readers, which isn’t a bad thing in itself. It has long been argued that feminism has an “image problem”, and that it is no longer needed in the West. It has also has been declared unappealing and irrelevant to young women by newspapers and in polls run by OnePoll and the online community Netmums.

Feminist theory

Academic feminist literature meanwhile has been criticised for tending to be theory-heavy and filled with impenetrable jargon. Matters are not helped by such texts being inaccessible to the general public, often being placed behind paywalls or published as costly hardbacks. This leaves a gap which popular feminism fills whether through blogs, social media posts, or affordable paperbacks.

However, this is where the world of marketing tends to step in to “save feminism” through rebranding exercises. It’s a process which often involves mainstream women’s magazines such as ELLE, Stylist, Grazia, or Cosmopolitan hiring advertising agencies to make feminism fashionable and challenge negative stereotypes of angry, ungirly feminists. As with popular feminism books, these attempts have varied in quality.

Since the 1990s, young feminists’ writing has been criticised for being focused on personal anecdotes at the expense of theory and now is no different. Popular feminism is often skewered by critics of being superficial, fluffy, apolitical, individualised, and consumer-driven.

Reading around the subject, you’ll find different labels used to describe this brand of feminism, including: “popular feminism”, “new feminism”, “young feminism”, “consumer feminism”, “choice feminism”, “neoliberal feminism”, and “mainstream feminism”. Whatever the label, the objection is the same: that feminist ideology is being commodified, de-fanged, and made attractive to a general audience.

Popular feminist books are often designed to appeal to younger readers, rather than those well versed in feminist theory. Eggerue makes it clear that she used an easy-to-read writing style because she didn’t want her book to intimidate readers.

Why feminist books look similar

These books all look and sound the same because they are meant to be starting platforms for those who are new and curious about sexism, inequality, and feminism. They click with younger readers and I’m sure there will be more to come aimed at future generations.

What’s more difficult though, is bridging the gap between these “starter” 101 books and more challenging, critical texts. While the former are more readily marketable and appealing to publishers, the latter still tends to occupy less visible spaces. This lack of visibility for other feminist texts means a rich wealth of ideas and thoughts are not being heard outside niche spaces like academia and activist circles.

On the flip side, feminist voices dominating mainstream spaces are selling women the idea that social and political inequalities can be simply overcome through self-will and self-improvement: “You go girl!”The Conversation

Rebecca Wray, Critical Psychologist and Specialist Mental Health Mentor, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Daring reads by the first generation of Canadian Jewish women writers


Ruth Panofsky, Ryerson University

How do you get through the dark winter months of a pandemic? By reading exciting work by long overlooked Canadian women writers.

Consider the first generation of Canadian Jewish authors who wrote in English. Readers will know the poet Irving Layton — whose death we commemorate on Jan. 4 — as well as novelist Mordecai Richler and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, all of them Montréalers.

But you may not know the women who published poems and prose alongside their more recognized male counterparts.

Prairie writers Miriam Waddington, Adele Wiseman and Fredelle Bruser Maynard and Torontonians Helen Weinzweig and Shirley Faessler were among the pioneering figures who produced daring work out of their own experiences as women.

My research on Canadian Jewish writers has led to a deep appreciation for the work of these accomplished women who deserve recognition for their contributions to the field.

Who were these women and what did they publish?

Miriam Waddington

A book cover.
‘Driving Home,’ by Miriam Waddington.
(Oxford University Press)

Winnipeg-born Waddington (1917-2004) participated in the rise of modernist Canadian poetry.

A prolific writer, she published 14 volumes of verse during her lifetime. Waddington’s poetry is deceptively accessible: it is personal but never private, emotional but not confessional, thoughtful but never cerebral.

Waddington wrote layered verse always from a gendered position, first as a social worker who saw aspects of herself in her most vulnerable clients. She detailed intoxicating romance and mature love, the pleasures of marriage and motherhood, the experience of raising two sons to adulthood and the ineffable pain of divorce.

As she moved through middle age, Waddington wrote of her ancestral past, the death of her ex-husband and loss of close friends, and later of growing old. Her poems of a Winnipeg childhood, modern urban life in Montréal and Toronto, visits to London, Berlin, Jerusalem and Moscow, of art and writing, probed irreconcilable differences of place and identity, politics and work.

At the core of Waddington’s poetry was a moral quest for knowledge and understanding. A two-volume critical edition of her collected poems was published in 2014.

Adele Wiseman

Adele Wiseman seen in profile on a book cover.
‘The Force of Vocation: The Literary Career of Adele Wiseman’
(University of Manitoba Press)

Wiseman (1928-92) was also born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End when it was largely Jewish.

She is best known for her two novels that mine the Prairie landscape and the Jewish culture that was her inheritance. Both works are set in insular communities whose practices reflect traditional Judaism.

The Sacrifice, published when Wiseman was 28 in 1956, received the Governor General’s Literary Award that year. This tragic novel revealed her interest in characters who challenge normative behaviour and affirmed Wiseman’s belief in community. It centres on the murder of a woman by its devout protagonist Abraham who misinterprets her flirtation.

Crackpot is the epic story of Hoda, an obese Jewish sex worker, who services the boys and men of her North End community. Hoda is garrulous and outspoken, determined and resilient. Tested by fate and the son she must give up at birth, she remains one of literature’s most memorable characters — for playwrights, poets and readers alike.

Today, Crackpot is universally admired, but in 1974, the year it was published, the Canadian audience had little taste for its novelistic treatment of unconventional sexuality and incest.

Fredelle Bruser Maynard

A woman on a couch.
Fredelle Bruser Maynard at her home at 25 Metcalfe St., in Cabbagetown, in Toronto, in the mid-to-late 80s.
(Courtesy of Rona Maynard)

Born in Foam Lake, Sask., Maynard (1922-89) spent her youth in Winnipeg. Her two memoirs, written with honesty and poignancy, foreground her experience as a Jewish woman.

Raisins and Almonds (1972) evokes Maynard’s childhood and family life on the Prairies, where she recalls growing up feeling “Jewish and alien” in rural Western towns during the 1920s and 1930s.

She continues her story in The Tree of Life (1988) with an emphasis on relationships with her mother and sister, her artist husband Max Maynard — who was an alcoholic for the duration of their 25-year marriage — and her writer daughters Rona and Joyce. A brilliant student who earned a PhD in English from Radcliffe College in 1947, Maynard also exposes the gender norms of the time that prevented her from pursuing an academic career.

Helen Weinzweig

Born in Radom, Poland, Weinzweig (1915-2010) immigrated to Canada at the age of nine with her divorced mother. Her novels and stories are dark, spare narratives that critique the institution of marriage.

The experimental novel Passing Ceremony (1973) blends surreal and gothic styles to present a sombre picture of the ritual of marriage. It communicates Weinzweig’s belief in the paradox that tragedy always lurks beneath the seemingly innocuous conventions of everyday life.

Basic Black with Pearls (1980), which won the Toronto Book Award, is a “feminist classic.” Written as a highly subjective interior monologue, it too examines the vacuousness of traditional marriage. An ingenious work of puzzles, the novel’s clever use of transformations and masks sharpens the interplay of reality and illusion at its heart.

“My Mother’s Luck,” another monologue included in the short story collection A View from the Roof (1989), records the difficult life of a dynamic character based on Weinzweig’s own mother.

Weinzweig’s fragmented, discontinuous stories propel readers toward a heightened awareness of the contradictions of contemporary life.

Shirley Faessler

Faessler (1921-97) was born and raised in Toronto’s Kensington Market when it was a Jewish enclave, and used this setting for her fiction.

The novel Everything in the Window (1979) describes the marriage of Sophie Glicksman and Billy James, a convert to Judaism. Set during the 1940s, it draws readers into a vivid world of contrasting sensibilities: the Jewish openness in Sophie’s family versus James’s gentile politeness.

A woman on the cover of a book.
‘A Basket of Apples.’
(Now and Then Books)

On the back cover of A Basket of Apples (1988), Alice Munro proclaims Faessler “a witty and uncompromising writer.” Munro admired the nine stories in the collection, six of which return to the Glicksman family.

In a 2014 edition of the six Glicksman stories, linked via chronology and a consistent first-person female narrator, a cast of lively characters of the 1930s and 1940s speak to us across time through Yiddish-inflected English.

Readers will enjoy the rich diversity of Canadian Jewish experience reflected in the poetry of Waddington and the prose of Wiseman, Maynard, Weinzweig and Faessler. The work of these authors remain evocative and relevant — perfect for long winter evenings.The Conversation

Ruth Panofsky, Professor, Department of English, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 Davitt Awards Winners


The link below is to an article reporting on the winners of the 2020 Davitt Awards for the best crime books by Australian women.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/09/28/157283/davitt-awards-2020-winners-announced/

2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner


The links below are to articles reporting on the 2020 United Kingdom’s Women’s Prize for Fiction winner, Maggie O’Farrell for ‘Hamnet.’

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2020/09/maggie-ofarrell-wins-the-2020-womens-prize-for-fiction-covid19/
https://lithub.com/maggie-ofarrells-hamnet-has-won-the-womens-prize-for-fiction/
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/09/10/156444/ofarrell-wins-2020-womens-prize-for-hamnet/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/09/maggie-o-farrell-wins-womens-prize-for-fiction-with-exceptional-hamnet
https://bookriot.com/2020-womens-prize-winner/

Women Writers of 17th Century Spain


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the forgotten women writers of 17th century Spain.

For more visit:
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/madrid-exhibit-highlights-forgotten-women-writers-17th-century-spain-180975725/

Why it’s not empowering to abandon the male pseudonyms used by female writers



Portrait of the writer Vernon Lee by John Singer Sargent.
Wikimedia

Eleanor Dumbill, Loughborough University

In a letter to James AH Murray in 1879, the writer ME Lewes wrote “I wish always to be quoted as George Eliot”. She perhaps would not have been pleased by a new campaign from The Women’s Prize for Fiction and its sponsor, Baileys called Reclaim Her Name campaign.

Marking the 25th anniversary of The Women’s Prize, under the bold tagline of “finally giving female writers the credit they deserve”, 25 novels have been reprinted using the real names of 26 writers who used male pseudonyms.

The scheme may have some positive outcomes, such as introducing readers to writers and works they might not have otherwise discovered. However, whether it gives female writers the credit they deserve is up for debate.

Mary Ann, Marian and George

The collection’s lead title, touted in all press coverage of its release, is George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872) – now published with the author’s name given as Mary Ann Evans. Though this was the name given to her at birth, Eliot’s “real name”, or the name by which we should refer to her, has been a matter of debate by researchers for years.

She experimented with alternative spellings like Marian and with completely different names like Polly, used her common-law husband’s surname, Lewes, for much of her literary career, and was known as Mrs Cross at the time of her death. 19th-century readers would have known exactly who to assign credit to. Her true identity was revealed shortly after the publication of her second novel, Adam Bede (1859), and at the height of her literary fame she signed correspondence ME Lewes (Marian Evans Lewes).

Portrait of writer George Eliot sitting
George Eliot.
Wikimedia

Eliot’s own consideration of the name she should be known by is as complicated a psychological and moral question as any depicted in her novels. However, her wish to be known professionally as George Eliot is resolute and clearly articulated. It helped her separate her personal and professional personas. Choosing a name to publish under is an important expression of agency and using a different name without the author’s input and consent deprives them of that agency rather than reclaiming it.

It is also important to debunk a common misconception to understand why this campaign is misguided. In George Eliot’s time, women did not have to assume male pseudonyms to be published. Writers who opted to use pen names tended to choose ones that aligned with their own genders. In fact, in the 1860s and 70s men were more likely to use female pseudonyms than vice versa. William Clark Russell, for example, published several novels under the name Eliza Rhyl Davies.

Women dominated the literary marketplace as both readers and writers for the majority of the 19th century. Of the 15 most prolific authors of the period 11 were women, according to the At the Circulating Library.

The need to project modern gender imbalances that exist in publishing today onto 19th-century authors is understandable but anachronistic.

Obscuring queerness

There are further issues with how this campaign depicts LGBTQ+ writers and its inclusion of Vernon Lee’s A Phantom Lover (1886) and Michael Field’s Attila, My Attila! (1896).

There has been much discussion among scholars concerning Lee’s gender identity, with many believing that in a 21st century setting the author may have identified as a trans man. This makes the inclusion of Lee’s birth name (also known in the trans community as a deadname) particularly troubling.

Black and White photograph of Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper.
Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper.
Wikimedia

Meanwhile, Field was the pen name for a pair of writers — Edith Cooper and Katharine Bradley. The name Michael Field represented their collaboration, with Michael representing Bradley and Field representing Cooper. Bradley’s name is misspelt (with an “e”, rather than an “a”) in the collection – another indication that this project may not have been completed with the degree of care one might expect from a literary prize. Like Lee, the pair expressed discomfort with being seen as women as authors.




Read more:
Poets and lovers: the two women who were Michael Field


Ultimately, the problem with the Reclaim Her Name project is one of agency. The writers included in the project chose the names that would be associated with their works and, in many cases, continued to use these pseudonyms after their identities had been revealed. Their reasons for choosing to write under pen names were complicated and, in some cases, we may never know why those decisions were made. One thing is clear, though: if we choose to override these decisions then we are choosing to deny a woman agency. We are not “reclaiming” names, but imposing them.The Conversation

Eleanor Dumbill, Doctoral Researcher, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 Davitt Awards Shortlists


The link below is to an article reporting on the shortlists for the 2020 Davitt Awards.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/07/17/153836/davitt-awards-2020-shortlists-announced/

2020 Davitt Awards Longlists


The link below is to an article reporting on the longlists for the 2020 Davitt Awards for the best crime books by Australian women.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/06/01/151357/davitt-awards-2020-longlists-announced/