Alexandra Pierce on the AWW challenge

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series AWW challenge

Alexandra Pierce is a teacher, a reader, a reviewer and a feminist. Her blog can be found at Randomly Yours, Alex, and she is one third of the podcasting team at Galactic Suburbia, where she indulges in talking about her favourite books and interesting (or rant-inducing) speculative fiction-related things on the internet.  Alex responds to issues around the AWW challenge, previously published in Dark Matter issue 9.

What are your thoughts on the Australian Women Writers Challenge and the Stella Prize?

Although I’m not engaged in the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, I think it’s a brilliant idea. My not taking part is for personal not ideological reasons: after a number of years reading for Last Short Story, I pulled out this year because I was finding the demand (created by myself!) to read a certain amount, or certain things, was killing my love of reading. So I decided to have (at least) a year of reading whatever I liked at whatever pace I liked; it’s just a shame the AWW coincided with this! Anyway, the Challenge is a great idea on a whole number of levels: at the most basic, it seems to have got a lot of people talking about female Australian authors, and that can only be a good thing. Those people who have signed up for the really ambitious reading/reviewing challenge are looking for authors they’ve never read before, so hopefully they’ll come across new favourites, and spread the word as well.

On a more complex level, there has also been the discussion about the very idea of the Challenge – why it was started, whether it’s necessary, and the whole discourse surrounding reading bias and discrimination in the publishing world. Some of the most interesting things I’ve read on the internet, at least partly inspired by the Challenge, have been from people – especially men – doing a stocktake of their reading habits and realising just how androcentric they tend to be… being a bit shocked, and therefore making a determined effort to balance things out. I hope some people come away from the Challenge, or from reading about others doing it, with a complete change of heart about how female authors are publicised and published in the first place; I hope other people are at least challenged to think about who and what they read and why. As well as raising the profile of female authors, if the Challenge helps to move the conversation beyond the basics of Feminism 101 for at least a few people, it will have had some success.

My attitude towards the Stella is much the same. I think it’s tragic that having it is necessary, when we already have an award named after Miles Franklin – but which for such a long time has had shortlists and winners best described as a cockforest (can I say that? 😀 ) – and marvellous that there are proactive people determined enough to do something about it. If people start asking why it is necessary to have a female-only award, perhaps they’ll pay more attention to just who is getting shortlisted, as well as how women and their literary productions are marketed and discussed in the community. This too will hopefully lead to publicity for female authors, and a challenge for people and their reading habits.

Alex

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