Emily Books Asks… What is Women’s Writing?
Emily Gould and Ruth Curry on their upcoming symposium
This Saturday, September 10th at Ace Hotel’s Liberty Hall, Emily Books will host a star-studded symposium entitled, What is Women’s Writing?
Editors Caroline Casey (Coffee House Press), Laia Garcia (Lenny Letter), Megan Lynch (Ecco), agent Mel Flashman and National Book Foundation executive director Lisa Lucas sit down for a panel discussion with Emily Books publishers Emily Gould and Ruth Curry, to answer the question what is women’s writing?
Tickets can be purchased here.
Who’s idea was this, and where did it come from?
We had such a success with our “What is the Queer Novel?” event a few years back, and we wanted to tap into something similar—something that would engage writers and readers and industry people, and also get at the larger issues we’ve been trying to address with our project for the past five years. Ruth and I came up with it together by sitting across from each other typing simultaneously in the same Google Doc!
Is the symposium’s titular question about art or commerce or both or neither?
The question “What Is Women’s Writing” is definitely about both art and commerce, and also about the political category of “women”! From a publishing-industry perspective, we hear a lot about “women’s fiction,” which makes sense as a marketing category, but is also ridiculous—when you look at the data about who buys books, nearly all fiction is “women’s fiction.” So if women are the audience for most books, why has it taken so long for women’s subjectivity to be accurately portrayed in memoir and fiction? Another way of thinking about this question—and this is something I think about in all my work—is what does it mean to write in the first person? Why has first-person writing by women been vilified and marginalized, how has it come into its own in recent years, and what is the next step as we continue to make progress in terms of who gets to speak?
This may not seem fair to your great list of panelists, but if you could create an all-time, all-star panel for this symposium, who would you have?
I’d probably pick some of our favorite dead authors, so as not to offend anyone living: Cookie Mueller, Ellen Willis, Jean Rhys, Zora Neale Hurston, Barbara Comyns. It’s also interesting to imagine a version of the panel that’s explicitly about feminist-publishing foremothers, with Virago founder Carmen Callil, Feminist Press founder Florence Howe, Barbara Epler, Chris Kraus… Maybe next year!
How do you engage with this question while running your own imprint?
When we read submissions, or work by authors whose next book we might want to publish, we’re just listening to hear voices we haven’t heard before; people who couldn’t or wouldn’t be published elsewhere, who we feel like are speaking to us directly. That’s the way we interpret this mission.
Ok, so… what is women’s writing?
Lol. I think we’re about to find out! A related question is: what has changed in the last five years, culturally, in terms of what women are “allowed” to think, feel, and say—to be depicted thinking, feeling and saying? And why? Once we answer that I think we’ll be getting close…