The #writingwhilefemale day was one of the runaway successes of this year’s festival, and we thought it was time to profile the achievements of our brilliant intern, Amaryllis Gacioppo, who programmed and devised this unique day of panels, workshops and performances. The event trended strongly on Twitter, and insights from the day were shared widely.
Artshub published an article examining ‘How we can bolster female writing,’ and commended EWF as a “strong supporter of female voices” and made particular mention of Amarayllis Gacioppo’s excellent programming.
A later Artshub piece provided a beautiful wrap up of the day, and lists ‘9 ways for women to stop self-sabotaging.’
A few weeks ago, the #writingwhilefemale hashtag has gone international, after Jezebel posted the predictably depressing story about gender bias in the publishing industry, ‘Homme de Plume What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name.’ The author, Catherine Nichols, submitted her the opening pages of her novel to publishers under her own name, then under a pseudonym, and discovered that her male alter-ego was “8 times better than me at writing the same book.”
The connections created on the day will have lasting impacts – Lisa Dempster, Director of Melbourne Writers Festival, presented on the panel ‘Schooling Self Confidence’ and has since joined the steering committee of WILAA. Monash University postgraduates presented on a panel ‘Writing Women’ introducing a new generation of female writers to the Emerging Writers’ Festival audience. The day ended with the presentation of the Rachel Funari Prize – an award dedicated to the memory of Rachel Funari – before the announcement of a new literary organisation.
Lefa Singleton-Norton proudly announced the establishment of Women in Literary Arts Australia (WILAA), an initiative borne from an industry round table held at last year’s EWF. The WILA manifesto was presented at the closing night of the festival. We’re thrilled that this wonderful hub of information for female writers exists, and encourage you to take part in WILAA’s survey of women in literary festivals in Australia.
We’d like to thank Maxine Beneba Clarke for beginning the conversation and starting the #writingwhilefemale hashtag and our event partners Monash University Faculty of Arts and The Stella Prize.
Q&A with Amaryllis Gacioppo
Amaryllis Gacioppo is a writer currently undertaking a joint PhD in creative writing at Monash and the University of Bologna. As Women in Literary Arts Coordinator at the 2015 Emerging Writers’ Festival, she curated and produced #writingwhilefemale, a day-long event dedicated to women in the writing industry. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies across Australia and the U.S.
How did you come to intern with EWF, and what was your experience like?
My internship was organised through Monash University’s Faculty of Arts where I’m currently undertaking a PhD in creative writing. It was kind of fortuitous – as I’ve gotten older, my awareness of gender inequality has become more pronounced. By the time I met with Kate and Lefa, I was itching to contribute something positive towards closing gender imbalances and supporting women writers, but I wasn’t sure what.
My experience was entirely positive – being new to Melbourne, it provided me with an introduction to Melbourne’s vibrant writing community. I also learned a lot about the inner workings of an arts organisation. A thing I admire about the EWF is that inclusivity is a major priority, both within the organisation and in the literary community at large, which makes for an incredibly nurturing environment.
You started your internship at EWF researching into organisations that support women in writing, what did you find? How did this research lead into the establishment of WILAA?
The research into women’s writing organisations was my over-arching project at EWF. The establishment of WILAA was already on the cards from my first meeting with Kate and Lefa, catalysed by the Women in Writing Manifesto from the 2014 EWF Writing Forums.
A lot of my research was into the efforts being undertaken by both Australian and international women’s literary organisations in order to find out how we could support what was already being done and potential gaps WILAA could fill.
There has been a lot of action taken to supporting women in the Australian literary community in recent years, notably The Stella Prize. Most recently they launched the Stella Schools Program, which aims to encourage the inclusion of female Australian authors in the school curriculum.
There are many inspiring initiatives being carried out internationally – particularly in North America, with VIDA in the U.S, and CWILA in Canada. However, there seemed to be an absence of an over-arching Australian entity that could focus its efforts on the eight key points outlined in the Manifesto. Existing organisations working to equalise gender imbalances were already under-resourced and over-stretched in scope. WILAA aims to provide a supportive resource that focuses on the over-arching and interrelating issues facing women.
Could you tell us about the genesis of the #writingwhilefemale day? Were you at all surprised that there was such an appetite for a full day of events discussing the experiences of female writers?
Kate and Lefa had it pegged from the beginning as the WILAA launch. It was important to launch WILAA with an event that aimed to foster community, determine challenges affecting literary women in 2015, and promote an open dialogue.
I don’t think I was too surprised – I suppose because I knew my own hunger for an event like this, and it almost seemed overdue. We purposely wanted to stress that the event was inclusive, and I think while Melbourne has a brilliant literary community, something like #writingwhilefemale provides a space and fosters a community of openness and support. My main concern was for the event to meet these needs.
What were the challenges of programming these events?
There really weren’t many! The majority of artists I reached out to were excited to take part, so I suppose a challenge was the usual boring one of organising times. It was a big day, so a lot of the work once the programme was set was just a matter of juggling.
My own biggest challenge was curating panels and workshops that I thought were important to women in Melbourne’s literary community. I wanted to curate something which would be beneficial to both the audience and the artists. Actually, more than one of the artists commented on how wonderful it was to be surrounded by so many brilliant women, which was exactly what I was going for.
What was the most surprising story that was shared on the day?
I really enjoyed Lou Heinrich’s exploration of her decision to take her husband’s surname when she married and her inner conflict about it as she became older. I’d read her article on Kill Your Darlings a little while beforehand, and it provided a really amazing insight into the reasons why a woman might change her name, and the mixed feelings that may follow.
One session, ‘Writing While Feminist’, discussed the joys and perils of online writing. The perils are now very well documented, with online attacks now being routinely shared on social media seemingly every day. Could you tell us about some of the joyful experiences of writing that women shared?
All of the women agreed that online writing has broadened their sense of community and allowed many women who would otherwise be barred from traditional publication avenues a voice. The purpose of Writing While Feminist wasn’t to deter women from online writing, but to equip them with strategies to protect themselves while doing so. A really great example of a writer not only protecting herself but reclaiming the online space is Clem Ford’s naming and shaming of internet trolls. She spoke about this during the panel – I think this is significant, as strengthened community will empower more of us to reclaim space rather than just navigate it.
I think one of the best things the internet has provided is a democratisation of voices. It’s incredibly heartening to see women equipping themselves with knowledge and speaking out where they might previously have been silenced.
What do you hope will come out of events such as this?
In general I hope that these events foster community amongst women in the literary industry, facilitate more open dialogue, and make women feel supported.