An Impossible Challenge?
The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow might be over, but at Glasgow Women’s Library a fantastic group of women is still working away on a challenge we set ourselves earlier this year – to identify a contemporary woman poet, short story writer or novelist from every Commonwealth country, source copies of their books and get them onto the shelves at GWL.
Of course, we already had a lot of Commonwealth women writers on our shelves, thanks to the generous-spirited women who donated them. We don’t receive funding for stock and rely on donations of ‘pre-loved’ books.
But most of the books we have were by women who’d broken through to the international market. Amazing writers such as Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Doris Lessing, Eleanor Catton. Writers we love and appreciate.
What, we wondered, about writers we wouldn’t normally come across? Poets and novelists from the Caribbean or Malaysia or Kenya whose work reflects and explores the lives of women from their culture? First Nation writers from Canada and Australia? Could we find them and make their writing available to women in Scotland?
So how are we doing?
Well, it’s September 1st. Here’s a quick round-up of where we’re at.
Initially we had set aside a nice long shelf in the library for the collection of fifty-three books we hoped to source. But thanks to the generosity of the writers and publishers we approached we’ve had to make more space.
Our great team of volunteers has been searching for women writers on the Internet – and we’ve been learning just where all the Commonwealth countries are along the way.
Books have been steadily coming in from authors and publishers. Some publishers have been generous, with Spinifex (Australia) sending us two huge boxes filled with a wonderful mix of poetry, short story, novel and memoir.
And as word spread about our project we started to get visits from writers who were in Scotland for other reasons, such as performance poet, Toni Stuart from South Africa.
We were moved too by readings from Tamil Indian poet and novelist, Salma.
We also hosted a visit from London-based Jamaican children’s writer, Velma McClymont who writes as Kate Elizabeth Earnest. Velma donated copies of her children’s novels, welcome additions to our growing Commonwealth children’s writing section. One of these, the ground-breaking Hope Leaves Jamaica, is currently for sale on Amazon at £2,4950. And GWL now has a signed copy!
Anita from Indian feminist publishing house, Zubaan books, came in on a rare visit to Scotland to find out what GWL is like. She brought along Zubaan’s current catalogues and we’re now working out how Zubaan can send us some of their excellent books without us breaking the bank over postage costs.
We’ve been asked to speak at other Commonwealth events too, and were given a great opportunity to share our Commonwealth reads with students and staff at the University of Strathclyde.
And we’ve had visits from Canadian Cree poet, Louise Halfe, also known by her beautiful Cree name, Skydancer, as well as Ali Cobby Eckerman, an Aboriginal Australian poet. I’ll be posting blogs about their visits shortly.
It’s been an uplifting journey so far. As Reader in Residence at Glasgow Women’s Library I hold weekly Story Cafe sessions, where we read stories and poems aloud while sharing food. (Skydancer loved our round table.) We always have lively discussions, and we love reading work from different cultures, chatting about the similarities and differences in women’s lives around the world. I know that these new books are going to really enrich our experience, and will be in high demand for borrowing.
Would you like to be involved? No matter where you are in the world…
On November 27th we’re throwing a party to celebrate the end of our project.
By then we hope to have books from women writers in every Commonwealth country. We’re planning an exhibition about the writers and their work, and our journey towards creating what will now be a whole new section in the library. There will be readings from Commonwealth writers who live in Scotland, as well as from women who have taken part in the project.
We would love to be able to display messages of support from around the world.
So if you’ve any thoughts on our project, any questions, anything you’d like to suggest, or if you’d simply like to send us a message, please do.
You can post a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to us at Commonwealth Women’s Writing, Glasgow Women’s Library, 23 Landressy Street, Glasgow G40 1BP, Scotland, UK.
If you’re a writer in a Commonwealth country why not make a short video telling us what you think of the project, sending your greetings, reading an extract of your work, whatever… And we’ll use it in a short film we’re making for the exhibition.
Can’t wait to hear from you.
Reader in Residence, Glasgow Women’s Library
With thanks to CELEBRATE who have funded this project.