Elizabeth Lhuede has set up the ‘Australian Male Writers Challenge’ as an affiliate page for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. 2012 saw the inaugural Australian Women Writers’ Challenge (AWW), whose goal was to bring notice to Australian women’s writing. This was felt necessary because women’s work is often overlooked when it comes to being reviewed by prestigious reviewers representing reputable sources such as traditional media (newspapers and magazines), with a flow-on effect of decreasing the likelihood of women’s work being considered for prestigious awards. The Miles Franklin Award is a case in point, which, although named after a woman, tends to include more men’s work in short-lists and prizes. If you look at the Australian Male Writers challenge in the context of bringing more prestige and notice to Australian writers in general, this could be a good thing. However, I would have thought a more balanced approach would be an Australian Writers Challenge, no gender involved.
The willingness of some participants to create this equal space is evident in various 2012 wrap up posts; several female participants have noted that the challenge has made them more aware of the need to promote and support all Australian writers, not just women…
Could there be room for another challenge – a “male writers challenge” – one that makes “male” a visible category rather than the norm?…
The lack of visibility of women writers in Australian literary review pages has to do with genre as well as gender.
Elizabeth has a point, but I personally feel that segregation of the sexes with parallel challenges is counter-productive because it reinforces demarcation and will probably encourage male reviewers to review male authors and, to some extent, female reviewers to review female authors.
Elizabeth justifies these parallel challenges:
At least one (male) participant commented that he wouldn’t be signing up for the challenge again, principally because it had – according to him – become an exercise of “ignoring” books written by Australian men. Others, only recently hearing about the challenge, claimed they wouldn’t be signing up because they are male. (It’s only for women, right?)…
My thought is this: rather than fight against male readers’ lack of interest in reading books by Australian women, why not work with it?
In my own efforts to promote discussion about the Australian Women Writers Challenge, Michael Pryor voiced concern about male authors’ works potentially being ignored. This page provides links to all the AWW guest blogs on Dark Matter in 2012, talking about the need for the AWW but also the need to increase the profile of all Australian authors.
This running of parallel challenges seems to me to reinforce segregation rather than to bring people together en masse in support of Australian literature (literature with a small ‘l’). While I thoroughly agree with Elisabeth’s comments about literature versus genre, as an addendum I would like to point out that an Australian literary novel is considered a success if it sells only 1000 copies. That is hardly a commercial success and is definitely not the kind of sales figure upon which writing becomes a day job. All of this brings me back to one of my soap-boxes, which is ‘definitions of success’. Unfortunately it’s possible for an Australian ‘non-literature’ novel to sell more than 1000 copies and not to be considered for prestigious awards, thereby continuing a vicious circle that, in my opinion, is detrimental to the reputation of the awards, the novels and the publishing industry.
I wholeheartedly agree that we, the reviewers, bloggers and readers of Australian fiction, especially Australian genre fiction, need to work towards raising the profile of our beloved genre and authors. However, I think running two parallel and apposite challenges is counter-productive. I’d love it if there was one challenge that encouraged but did not enforce diverse reading, authors of both sexes, with further encouragement to read works by minorities such as ethnic minorities, LGBT and disabled authors. Personally I’ve felt frustrated that I can’t read an Australian male author as research for an interview and have it count towards the AWW challenge, thereby getting a ‘two-for-one’ benefit in networking. Creating a second challenge with a second website just seems like far too much effort, especially after having had difficulties inputting my reviews and interviews in the past year. In the coming year I expect to be undertaking the associate degree of Professional Writing and Editing full-time (I have this shiny letter from RMIT and am counting down the days until the main round offers ) so I really don’t know if I can keep a reasonable pace with important non-Australian books, manage Dark Matter AND two separate challenges, complete with keeping everything straight and inputting reviews separately…
Also, for reading not to become a complete chore, it’s important that I don’t always feel that reading is homework. I can love a book but if it’s HOMEWORK, enjoyment can be diminished. This is why I tend not to review anything I purchase – it’s my REWARD TO MYSELF.
The Australian Male Writers Challenge is on hiatus. It may return as an Australian Writers challenge. If you are an avid supporter of the AMW challenge or an Australian Writers Challenge, I recommend contacting Elizabeth Lhuede on twitter to voice your support.
While I personally don’t want to participate in two challenges, I’d like to see them be a success. I’ve expressed my support and preference for an Australian Writers Challenge.