I started working at GWL in 2005, as their first ever paid Librarian. As well as being somewhat daunting (yikes! what a responsibility!), it was a dream come true: to open up a treasure trove of books to women from all walks of life. Working in a library of donated books is something special. It’s lovely for someone to come in and spot a book that’s been life-changing for them, nestled safely on our bookshelves.
One of my favourite items in our collection is a beautiful copy of Their eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. First published in 1937, it follows a young woman’s quest for identity and love. It still amazes me that this book, now considered to be one of the most important novels in the canon of African-American literature, was dismissed at the time of its publication and out of print for 30 years, only to be rediscovered by Alice Walker in the 1970s.
I read it in my early twenties when I was a student and was totally blown away by Hurston’s style of writing. It was like a nugget of rare gold on a literature course that was dominated by male writers. At the time, I didn’t have the knowledge or language to question the casually accepted under-representation of women writers, but after years as GWL Librarian, I certainly do now! In a way, the story of this book perfectly illustrates why GWL needs to exist. Women writers remain under-represented and undervalued, even in 2016, and we must be here to challenge that.
11 years on from my first day, it remains a joy work here. To be enriched by women writers from across the globe, and to be able to share that with others, is a real privilege.