Thursday, March 29, 2007

Do Women writers lack imagination?

Well, well, well, some recent news out of the UK has set about a bit of a controversy. The UK has a special literary prize just for women called Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and it seem that the person in charge of choosing this year's winner, Muriel Gray, was a bit miffed with many of the submissions this year. Referring to the majority of entrants, she said "There were lots of books we rejected - about personal female issues, the loss of a child, the break-up of a marriage, thinly veiled autobiographical things of no consequence - because they weren't expansive enough,". She went on to say "They are writing small personal takes on what it's like to be a woman. They don't seem to be dreaming big dreams." and "We found too many lazy writers who think that it's enough just to chronicle something going on in their lives. It is mildly depressing".

I don't know the specifics of the books she is speaking about, and she has the right to her opinion. It must have been frustrating if she found this to be true time and time again. But I have to question what she is saying on a couple of levels. First of all, I think men are probably guilty of this too. I think writers write what they want to, what moves them. Lawyers write about stories concerning the law and cops about crime. If you think closer to home rather than expansive, then that is what you are going to write about. Sometimes stories that are precise and close and relatable can be the most powerful. And sometimes you'd like to get away from that. Either way, if an idea calls to you and wants to be written, if it grabs your interest and makes you want to know more, then you're going to write it. You write what intrigues you and makes you want to uncover the story inside. In these cases it is often the characters that make the story and not necessarily the plot.

Maybe it is the fact that women tend to be the domestic ones in the house. No matter how much a man takes part in the lives of his children, no matter how many soccer games he attends or times he helps get them to bed, it is often the mother who takes time off work to attend to a sick child, who takes them to birthday parties, who wrestles with guilt when she is at work and not with her children, and is the person a child runs to when he/she scrapes a knee. Not always true, I know, and I don't mean to say it is always true, just that in my experience and the experiences of my friends, this tends to be true (just as all books written by women do not focus on domestic issues). Is it any wonder then, that we turn to such themes to express ourselves?

I wonder how many genre novels the Orange Prize jury considered? Female writers of fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries or thrillers, certainly don't focus on domestic issues. Their canvasses, especially those of sci-fi and fantasy are often alternate worlds with great sweeping vistas. Gray herself is a horror writer.

And what books did make the longlist? Well, congratulations to Lisa Moore whose book Alligator is there. Definitely expansive and a prime example of how women don't always restrict themselves to "smaller" issues.

If nothing else, Gray's statements are creating discussion. My favourite is from 50 Books (scroll down to "Women's Books Are Too Trivial" to read it).


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