This Australian Writers Festival Is Amplifying The Modern Generation Of Feminist Literary Voices

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When people talk about important feminist writers or pieces of literature, it’s easy to recall names like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Andrea Dworkin, Simone de Beauvoir, and Germaine Greer. Granted, these are authors and feminists who have and still are regularly taught in many gender studies courses around the world. But there are so many writers activists and feminists who have released some pretty groundbreaking books more recently, which are as equally important to dig into as “the greats” because they are speaking to the modern landscape of feminism.

People like Bell Hooks, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Caitlin Moran, Toni Morrison, Audra Lorde, Eve Ensler and more are widening the scope of what it means to be a feminist today, and including the crucial intersectional element to it. A few other authors who have recently released books directly discuss feminism from the framework of issues that have become more of a 21st century space. Bitch Media founder Andi Zeisler’s ‘We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement‘ talks about how pop culture has infiltrated the world of feminism with people like Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and feminism now being a “trending topic”.

One of the founders of the Shout Your Abortion movement, Lindy West, who is also a writer, released her first book titled ‘Shrill’, which details her journey being a plus size woman, being bullied online, and how feminism taught her to be unapologetic about the shape of her body.

And speaking directly to the “political” aspect of the definition of feminism, celebrated columnist Rebecca Traister released ‘All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation‘ giving voice to the growing demographic of women who are becoming a formidable political force in the US outside the boundaries of traditional gender roles and societal expectations.

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These are just a few names in a huge group of feminist authors who are collectively challenging the norms and allowing the world to get used to the idea of independent women existing outside of stereotypes. These books are so important because they share the kind of life experiences and cover topics that you can’t necessarily be educated about in a 4 year University degree or an internship. They are lived experiences and we can all learn from them.

While there is plenty of media coverage of feminists’ work today (which is something Andy Zeisler talks about in her book), there is something to be said about these books being an integral part of literature festivals. Sadly, it has hard to find many feminist-specific festivals dedicated to delving into feminist literature, which is why one Australia festival has decided it is high time to change this.

The Inaugural Feminist Writer’s Festival, held in conjunction with the annual Melbourne Writer’s Festival, is set to bring together a very diverse set of feminist literary voices in the hope it will spark further discussions about the relevance of feminism in the world today.

“The festival will be intersectional and interrogative, and will bring together feminist writers, readers, speakers, thinkers and artists for a range of inclusive events, including public panels, practical workshops, and networking opportunities. The Feminist Writers Festival will connect and strengthen the diverse writing communities that exist around Australia. The festival seeks to expand the themes and voices around feminism and women’s writing by offering a space for critical engagement and practical support for all feminist writers and readers,” says a description on the website.

It is chaired by 10 women, all of whom are as diverse as they are accomplished in their own way. They are academics, writers, event directors, research fellows and editors, who all share a passion to amplify and expand intersectional feminism.

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Co-founder Cristy Clark says the inaugural event, a rarity in the literature world, came at an opportune time.

“I realized there were all these great communities of feminist writers in Australia and I wanted to get them together. The festival will create opportunities for feminist writers, thinkers and readers to connect,” she said in a press release.

An article on Scroll.in claims this is a first-of-its-kind event at least by name in the literature world, and that we need more of these around the world.

“In your average bookstore you are not going to find an accessible stack of books written by feminist writers. After so many years of feminist writing, shouldn’t bookstores have more to offer? Where is all the feminist writing?” asked Rashmi Patel.

“This is not to say that it will be unique in terms of intended agenda and content, but surely there is no other writers’ festival with the f-word so prominent in its banner. Panels that discuss feminist writing have been an integral part of all major literary and writers’ festivals around the world,” she clarified.

Cristy Clark told her the idea came about after she posted something on Facebook about it and received an overwhelmingly positive response. But she is also well aware there is a corner of the internet who lie ready to attack any and every move a feminist makes, but the organizers are not deterred by any backlash they may receive concerning the explicitly specific nature of this festival.

“We see it from a political perspective. We see it as progress, as freeing people from historic boxes. People who hold the most privileged position in society are going to resent people who dismantle those privileges,” she said, explaining how women rising up and using their voices and spaces can be a sign of threat to those used to holding all the power.

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Egyptian activist and author Mona Eltahawy, who writes about feminism and sexuality within the realm of Islam, stated something similar in an appearance the the Jaipur Literary Festival in India not too long ago.

“Many people falsely believe that feminism means women will be on the top and men will be on the bottom because they’re using the patriarchal model. Patriarchy promotes men on top and women on the bottom, this is not what I want. Unfortunately, because of patriarchy and misogyny, men can only think of movements that want to liberate women as something that will hurt them,” she explained.

Some of the Feminist Writers Festival founders who are women of color want to use this event as a reason to further bring discussions of intersectionality into the fold.

“We must step up to more intersectionality. We need to bring into mainstream, women writers with disabilities, transgender writers, and women writers of different religious and cultural backgrounds,” said Shakira Hussein who is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute and who has written extensively about being a Pakistani Muslim woman post 9/11.

Maxine Beneba Clarke, an award-winning author and poet of Afro-Caribbean descent has previously made noise about the lack of women of color being recognized at the highest level in Australian literature circles, as well as work from queer women and women with disabilities.

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“My God, so many intersectionality conversations Australian literature has not even started to have! There are certain questions we should perhaps be asking of our literary prizes. How is an award treasured as our ‘most prestigious’ literary award renowned for its mostly conservative shortlists? How can our major prize for the best book written by a woman in Australia have so far only been won by  white, tertiary-educated women with academic backgrounds, whose (albeit very excellent) work is largely concerned – in character and ambit – with white Australia?  Why isn’t there not a major book award for queer writing? How is it possible that in the same year the Sydney Morning Herald shortlisted five writers of colour as their Young Novelists of the Year, one state premier’s literary award gave lucrative awards across three or four categories to white writers whose work either heavily relied on multicultural Australia or told the stories of real or imagined people of colour in favour of works written by writers of colour?” she writes in an op-ed on Overland.org.au, which was cited by Rashmi Patel’s article on Scroll.in.

Which makes the Feminist Writers Festival, set to take place on the weekend beginning Friday August 26, all the more important. Having a group of founders so diverse (which also includes an Indigenous Australian woman) makes their emphasis on intersectionality credible and meaningful.

We hope more feminist literary events like this start to emerge all over the world as there is so much rich conversations to dig into specific to each country. Like with any topic studied, there has to be a continuation of analysis of progression, and feminism definitely needs this so that more people can see the relevance of it even today.

The aforementioned Gloria Steinem, who recently traveled to Australia as part of her tour promoting her latest book, made an appearance at the Sydney Writers Festival and had this to say about the importance of feminist writing:

“It makes us know we’re not alone, it gives us a consciousness. We should use every media that’s available to us. It’s the campfire equivalent.”

To find out more about the Australian Feminist Writers Festival or connect with the organizers, click here.

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