by Joanna Walsh

I started the Twitter hashtag #readwomen2014 around some Cartes de Voeux I made, linking the French tradition of sending New Year’s Cards with the word Voeux which mean good wishes, and also ‘vow’. I’d followed a couple of recent projects in which readers vowed to spend a period of time reading books exclusively by women. You can see some of them here, and here. I made the Cartes in support and encouragement, and tweeted them, reasoning that, as most of my friends and colleagues are on Twitter, and I’m so bad at saving addresses, this would be the best way to get in touch with anyone I wanted to send them to. A couple of people asked me to tweet the 250-odd names of women writers I’d typed on the back of the cards.

The people I follow on Twitter are mostly bookish, their tweets are subtle, clever, none of them are bandwaggoners. I worried that tweeting the names might seem crudely polemical, even boring, but within minutes women – and men – were tweeting their own favourites for me to add to the list, and the meme passed on until the names doubled, and trebled. This was something people cared about. It also felt like they were having a lot of fun.

It’s been exciting to see some of the ways the hashtag has been used: as a personal incentive, a rallying cry, a celebration of recent achievements (2013 prizes for Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, Eleanor Catton…) and of authors who should be better known. It’s been used as a tag for discussion of women’s writing, and to linkup ‘read women’ projects around the world. But if I’m being given the chance, here, to assign a personal reason to why you should #readwomen2014…

It’s a truth universally acknowledged, and confirmed by VIDA, that, though women read more books than men, and female authors are published in comparable numbers, they are more easily overlooked: a smaller presence in literary journals both as reviewers, and the reviewed, they also account for fewer literary translations.

It’s not whether women are published (because they are) but how they are published. Are men more likely to write what’s considered ‘important’ literary fiction, or could it be that more are regarded that way? I’ve heard female writer friends grouse when their books are given flowery covers though their writing’s not, when reviews, even press-releases, describe their work as “delicate” when it is forthright, “playful” when it is experimental, “delightful” when it is satirical, “carving a niche” when it is staking a claim (none of these examples is made up).

Of The New Yorker‘s “Litfeuds of 2013“, a significant number were over what it is to write as a woman, and — in this age of the ‘book hot’ publicity shot — what it is to be perceived as a woman writer: Claire Messud on whether the heroines in books by women have to be “likeable”, Rachel Kushner on “mansplaining”, Zadie Smith and Lauren Sandler on whether women writers should have more than one child, or any at all. These debates are hot. They’re not always pleasant to handle but I want them to stay on the front page. Let’s not let go of them. If you’re a man, or a woman, and care about equality, or just about your own access to the best writing, let’s do what we can to rethink the way books by women are published, sold, promoted and received by readers (by us), even if it’s no more than scrolling down the list, leaving the beaten path, and googling Mina Loy, or Elfriede Jelinek, or Can Xue.

You can find, and contribute to, the list here.

About the Author:

Joanna Walsh is a writer and illustrator. Her work has been published by Granta, Tate, The London Review of Books, The Guardian, The White Review, The European Short Story Network, Narrative Magazine and others. Her story collection, Fractals, is published by 3:AM Press.