I'm at an academic conference on creative writing. The last session of the day is a manel* discussing the recently published experimental fiction book of one of the academics on stage. One of the others, an expert in the field of experimental writing, reels off a list of writers he feels this work deserves to stand alongside. White man after white man after white man after white man.
*A panel consisting of (white) men only.
On the journey to the conference, I read Dodge and Burn, the debut novel by Seraphina Madsen. A postmodern, psychedelic road trip novel in the tradition of the Beat Generation with a female protagonist and a storyline that includes male abuse of power.
I start compiling a list of all the women who've written experimental fiction: Meena Kandasamy, Kathy Acker, Eimear McBride, Han Kang (translator Deborah Smith), Joanna Walsh, Kim Thúy (tr. Sheila Fischman), Nicola Barker, Tatiana Salem Levy (tr. Alison Entrekin), Sheila Heti, Claudia Rankine, Ali Smith, Christine Brooke-Rose, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (tr. Arunava Sinha), Claire-Louise Bennett, Gertrude Stein, Valeria Luiselli (tr. Christina MacSweeney), Anne F. Garétta (tr. Emma Ramadan), Jenny Offill, Miranda July, Clarice Lispector (tr. various), Chris Kraus… I leave out the obvious; everyone's heard of Virginia Woolf.
My formal education spans four decades. None of these women were taught to me in school. None of these women were mentioned on my undergraduate degree in English Studies. None of these women were on the curriculum I taught in schools. None of these women were discussed on my MA in Creative Writing. These women were passed on to me by other women.
The Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2016 is announced. I'm excited: two books I've been championing since the beginning of the year are there, Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika (0 UK broadsheet reviews) and Martin John by Anakana Schofield (1 UK broadsheet review).
I compile stats for the Goldsmiths Prize.
2013: 1 female judge (of 4); 2 books by women on the shortlist (of 6); female winner
2014: 1 female judge (of 4); 2 books by women on the shortlist (of 6); female winner
2015: 1 female judge (of 4); 0 books by women on the shortlist (of 6); male winner
2016: 3 female judges (of 4); 5 books by women on the shortlist (of 6); winner to be decided.
Of the five titles this year, two are from independent publishers. Two other shortlisted writers were also published by independent publishers. Until their work was shortlisted for major prizes.
Life is not linear. Women's lives are fragmented: paid work, unpaid work, friendships, sex, children. We describe our lives in metaphors: juggling, stretched, pulled. I write this thinking it is an argument for why experimental writing suits writers who happen to be women. I should not have to argue for this.
Why isn’t experimental fiction by women taught in schools?
Why isn’t experimental fiction by women taught in universities?
Why isn’t experimental fiction by women published by major publishing houses?
Why isn’t experimental fiction by women reviewed in broadsheet newspapers?
Why isn’t experimental fiction by women winning major prizes?
Why isn’t experimental fiction by women included in lists of experimental fiction?
Why isn’t experimental fiction by women on the front tables in book shops?
Why isn’t experimental fiction by women discussed on panels?
An exception does not disprove a rule.
On Twitter, a white man says if Clinton talked about sexually abusing men and sexualising young boys her candidacy for President of the United States of America would be over. Why isn’t Trump’s? My friend Jess responds: TOTAL FUCKING MYSTERY.
Naomi Frisby runs the literary book blog The Writes of Woman, a celebration of
female writers and their work. She was shortlisted for The White Review Short Story
Prize 2016 and has been a guest editor for Fiction Uncovered. She's currently
working towards a PhD in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. You can follow Naomi on Twitter @Frizbot
If you'd like to write a guest post for us, please get in touch with Sabeena@tiltedaxispress.