Commonwealth Women’s Writing Project at GWL!

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.

IMG_1854

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?

Some of the women in our Read Aloud Commonwealth Women's Writing group.

Some of the women in our Read Aloud Commonwealth Women’s Writing group.

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.

IMG_1851

Local MSP, John Mason, in front of one of our bookcases way back in March when we’d just begun.

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.

The first parcel to arrive. From Cyprus!

The first parcel to arrive. From Cyprus!

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.

Toni reads some of our original Suffragette postcards.

Toni reads some of our original Suffragette postcards.

We were moved too by readings from Tamil Indian poet and novelist, Salma.

Indian Tamil poet, Salma, and yes, me again!

Indian Tamil poet, Salma, and yes, me!

Read the inspiring story of Salma and how she was taken out of education when she started menstruating, then survived years of confinement by clicking this link.

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!

Velma signing our Visitors' Book.

Velma signing our Visitors’ Book.

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.

Me with Anita, a publisher from Zubaan books in India, who's interested in starting up a Women's Library there.

Me with Anita, who’s interested in starting up a Women’s Library in New Delhi.

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.

Indian Scottish writer, Leela Soma with Indian/Canadianpoet Nalini Paul and myself at Strathclyde University.

Indian Scottish writer, Leela Soma with Indian/Canadian poet Nalini Paul and myself at Strathclyde University.

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.

I took Malaysian novelist, Chiew-Siah Tei and Aboriginal Australian poet out for the day to the Trossachs after their visit to the library.

Malaysian novelist, Chiew-Siah Tei and Aboriginal Australian poet Ali, out for the day to the Trossachs after their visit to the library.

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.

2014-06-29 11.53.49

Ali with a Scottish eagle owl.

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.

Some of the women from the Commonwealth Women's Writing group. With our round table!

Some of the women from the Commonwealth Women’s Writing group. With our round table!

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.

Toni sent us artisan chocolate from Cape Town. We're happy to receive chocolate from anywhere...

Toni sent us artisan chocolate from Cape Town. We’re happy to receive chocolate from anywhere…

You can post a comment below, or email me at magi.gibson@womenslibrary.org.uk, 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.

Magi

Reader in Residence, Glasgow Women’s Library

With thanks to CELEBRATE who have funded this project.

This entry was posted in Blog, Commonwealth Women's Writing Blog, News and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is kept private. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use some HTML tags and attributes.

Our phone is currently down - we are working to resolve this, but please contact us via email at info@womenslibrary.org.uk in the meantime.
We apologise for the inconvenience.