This story is brought to you by the Bay Area Book Festival.
The Women’s March in January of this year rallied an estimated 5 million people worldwide. In addition to being one of the largest protests in U.S. history, the march was also a highly visible call-to-arms for all who care about women’s rights and equality. Its message and enthusiasm have not abated in the ensuing months.
Some of the most vocal people leading today’s feminist revival are female authors — including Roxane Gay, Lindy West, Ayelet Waldman, Aya de Leon, Bridget Quinn, Susan Griffin, and many, many others — who’ve penned op-eds, books, essays, stories, poetry, and more, and will be in Berkeley this June 3-4.
Many authors say they’ve been galvanized into action by today’s political climate. They include Carolina de Robertis, whose book Radical Hope was conceived three days after Trump’s election and offers hope for these turbulent times in the form of socially conscious love letters. (See our recent interview with her.)
Local author, environmentalist, and activist Susan Griffin began working on a new book — an investigation of fascism — during the 2016 election and continues to be an active and inspiring political force in the Bay Area. Griffin’s work in ecofeminism started 40 years ago with her book Woman and Nature, which Adrienne Rich called “perhaps the most extraordinary nonfiction work to have merged from the matrix of contemporary female consciousness.” Four decades after its initial publication (a 40th anniversary paperback edition was recently released), Griffin’s seminal, feminist text is just as relevant now as it was then.
“I’m very heartened by the resistance. And by all the marches of resistance that followed and that continue,” she said in a recent interview. “Some people say the marchers don’t do anything. Don’t listen to them, please. Yes, we need to pass legislation. We need to have people run for office. We need to call our Congresspeople. But we also need to come together and raise our spirits by displaying our resistance.”
Roxane Gay is a fearless, outspoken “bad feminist”— see her earlier book on the subject — and looks at issues of race, class, and all the contradictions that make up womanhood in her new collection of short stories, Difficult Women. “Silence is the cruelest of cruelties,” Gay writes in one of the stories, insinuating, perhaps, that a way to end that silence is through the stories themselves, giving a voice to women who don’t have one.
“Writing is the ultimate control and the ultimate dominance,” Gay said at a recent event in Los Angeles. “You get to hold someone’s attention if you’re good… and I’m good.” (Gay also has written for The New Republic, which is sponsoring her session on June 3 at the upcoming book festival. The New Republic offers award-winning, in-depth reporting, political analysis and cultural commentary on today’s most challenging topics. Check out their special offer to celebrate the book festival: 10 issues, 1 full year, for only $10. They’ll also share sample copies and other great swag at the Roxane Gay event.)
Lindy West is another female author and outspoken feminist giving voice to the voiceless, particularly on the subjects of fatphobia, sexism, comedy, and dealing with the horrors of the internet. Her memoir Shrill was a poignant, hilarious, and heartfelt debut that showed the world how to fight back via technology, most tellingly during her confrontation with a nasty troll on This American Life.
“Women matter,” West writes in Shrill. “Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world.”
In a different, but no less political arena — the mainstream art world — author and art historian Bridget Quinn cast her gaze on a profound lack. And no, we don’t mean penis envy. Her book Broad Strokes looks at 15 female artists whose work was ignored by the male-dominated art canon. Her aim in writing the book was to “bring awareness to the fact that there is a crazy discrepancy — yes, even well into the 21st century — between the reception, exhibition, collection and recognition of male and female artists. In history and in present time.”
Quinn said she first became interested in the topic during her first year of college, when she realized that her 800-page Survey of Western Art textbook, (H. W. Janson’s History of Art), which covered “the dawn of human history to the early 1980s, included just 16 women artists,” Quinn said. “And it was the newest edition, the first to include ‘women in it with their clothes on’ (according to my only female professor). That is, any women artists in addition to female nudes.”
Bay Area Book Festival founder and director Cherilyn Parsons notes, “In the publishing world, too often women are the handmaidens. Nearly 80% of publishing industry staff are women (a higher percentage in lower positions). And 77% of readers are women. But far more male authors win the prestigious prizes, especially for books featuring main characters who are male. Most reviewers and critics are men. Thankfully, an organization named VIDA has been changing that by calling out the stats. As a book festival — founded by a woman and largely run by women — we want to accelerate the long-overdue work of highlighting female writers.”
Whether in the home, in the workforce, with our bodies, our rights, our gender expressions, relationships, and sexualities, being a woman today means navigating a minefield of contradictions. Feminist authors like those above, and others featured at the coming Bay Area Book Festival, show us one way of navigating through that minefield.
See them next weekend (June 3-4):
- Roxane Gay appears in conversation with Rafia Zakaria of The New Republic on Saturday, June 3, 3:15pm. And earlier that day, see her at 11:45am in a session on the politics of bodies called “From Every Angle: Women Writing About the Body” with Sonya Renee Taylor, and Sarai Walker, and Aya de Leon.
- Hear Lindy West sharing her truths on Saturday, June 3, 4:45pm for free at the San Francisco Chronicle Stage in the Park.
- Bridget Quinn appears Sunday, June 4, 1:30pm, in “A Paintbrush of Her Own.”
- Susan Griffin is in the session “Forces of Nature” on Sunday, June 4, 4pm, at Magnes Collection.
Other women and gender-focused topics at the Fest include a discussion on feminist activism in popular literature; gripping novelists Sylvia Brownrigg, Edan Lepucki, and Shanthi Sekaran on the “Ferocity of Love”; and New York Times bestselling author (The Gutsy Girl) Caroline Paul introduces a special screening of The Secret Garden, part of the film fest “Auteur, Author” at BAMPFA.
For other sessions with women authors, see the full schedule.
This story was written by, and is sponsored by, the Bay Area Book Festival. For more information about the festival, which takes place on June 3-4, 2017, visit the festival website. Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the Bay Area Book Festival.