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FEMINIST BOOK FORTNIGHT – 4th – 18th May 2019

What is a feminist book?

We need to celebrate stories by women, for women, as just one more way to redress gender injustice.” Shami Chakrabarti

Honno is a women’s press with feminism as a core value – but we often publish books that don’t seem to have overtly feminist themes. So during Feminist Book Fortnight we asked ‘what is a feminist book?’, looking at a different book every day, chosen from both our contemporary and classic lists.

Here is the round up of the books selected by Honno staff and committee.

JILL by Amy Dillwyn.
The lesbian narrator of Amy Dillwyn’s novel Jill rebels against the class and gender constrictions of her society in her quest for self-fulfillment. At its first publication in 1884, it heralded the dawn of the ‘New Woman’ in fiction; reprinted in Honno Press’s Welsh Women’s Classics series in 2013, it remains today a vital and vibrant testimony to the pioneering feminism of its author. Jane Aaron

THE HOWARTH FAMILY SERIES by Judith Barrow.
Judith writes about a group of women through the generations from the early 20 Century and pre women’s suffrage.She depicts very clearly how society and family, including the women, slows down or prevents the women from progressing and improving their lives. Gaining the vote does not mean total freedom, her female characters are also struggling against financial, familial and societal constraints as well. Nicky

GHOSTBIRD by Carol Lovekin is about a family of women: teenage Cadi, her mother Violet and aunt Lily. When Cadi demands to know the truth of who she is, she wakes the ghost of her sister Dora, who will make all the family face the secrets they tried to hard to hide. Part family drama, part magic realism, the moving story treats everyone, old or young, lesbian or straight, with great intelligence and warmth. Janet

NANSI LOVELL: Hunangofiant Hen Sipsi byElena Puw Morgan
– A novel about strong female characters who take charge of their own lives and struggle with the conventional expectations of society at the time, e.g. as regards motherhood. Doesn’t idealise women’s lot in any way.Wini
– “Nofel am gymeriadau benywaidd cryfion sy’n cymryd cyfrifoldeb am eu bywydau eu hunain ac yn ymgodymu hefo disgwyliadau confensiynol y gymdeithas ar y pryd, e.e. parthed bod yn fam. Nid yw yn delfrydu bywydau menywod mewn unrhyw ffordd.” Wini

FALLING by Debbie Moon
A futuristic story or a woman with abilities that are used by the authorities, and not always to her advantage. She has to re-adjust to her new timelines and skills many times whilst being aware of those around her, including her colleagues who may wish her harm. Her character is written as a strong determined woman working to keep herself safe and free. Nicky

THE WHITE CAMELLIAWE THAT ARE LEFT by Juliet Greenwood

The White Camellia, set in the early 1900s, has some great feminist characters: Sybil, the enigmatic business woman who can hold her own with villagers, mineworkers and some pretty treacherous family members to aristocratic; Vicky who intimidates authority in defence of her fellow suffragettes; and Bea herself who is fighting the prevailing norms of eligible marriages, work considered suitable for females and male authority in her own young life. It’s salutary to remember the enormous societal challenges that the suffragettes faced, and inspirational that despite all of those, using their wit, courage and tenacity, they WON the right to vote. Nicola

In We That Are Left Elin’s wealthy but controlled life is changed utterly by the first world war. With her husband away, she has to learn to grow food for the village and help her friends, and experiences great danger but also shocking new freedom. When Hugo comes back, how can she go back to how life was before? The novel captures the repression of women in the early 20th century, the life-changing power of female friendships and the terrible cost of war to women and men. Janet

THE VERY SALT OF LIFE: Welsh Women’s Political Writing from Chartism to Suffrage – an important and innovative collection of writing by Welsh women in a domain not traditionally associated with them in the period covered by the book, i.e. politics. The edited collection makes it clear that women engaging in politics today and venturing into the public sphere are part of a longer tradition than one might think, and it gives a new platform and new visibility to female voices that have been neglected for too long.
Wini

ABSOLUTE OPTIMIST by MennaElfyn
The book that discusses the life of Eluned Phillips. She continually lived and wrote whilst every award and recognition that was given under her pseudonym was proclaimed as plagiarism (by men assumed to be her lovers) by her male and female peers when her identity was revealed. The strength Eluned showed through her life to continue to write is amazing. Nicky

STRANGER WITHIN THE GATES by Bertha Thomas
This is described as a collection of witty, sharply observant stories, written at a time of great social change. What I didn’t expect was that it would feel so contemporary and relevant. Enjoyable and illuminating, and the wonderful ‘Latest Intelligence from the Planet Venus’: a witty, pro-female-suffrage parody, is particularly enjoyable. Helena

GOD’S CHILDREN by Mabli Roberts The skilfully-told story of a strong woman determined to make a difference, with believable characters, dramatic adventures and plot-twists and exotic locations – and based on a true story. Gwyneth

THE GREATEST NEED: THE CREATIVE LIFE AND TROUBLE TIMES OF LILY TOBIAS, A WELSH JEW IN PALESTINE by Jasmine Donahaye
An amazing story of courage and enterprise against the odds. One woman in a time of great international upheaval standing up for human rights and for her own rights as a woman to make a difference socially and politically. Caroline

BETSY CADWALADYR: A BALACLAVA NURSE: An Autobiography of Elizabeth Davies by Jane Williams (Ysgafell)
The life-story of a Welsh woman who travelled the world, confronting monsters, typhoons, obstructive employers and Florence Nightingale – and did it her way! Gwyneth

And of course we have two very politically and overtly feminist books – WALKING TO GREENHAM: How the Peace Camp Began and the Cold War Ended bAnn Pettitt, a fantastic account of  how the author gathered together a small group of would-be marchers and set out to walk to a UK airbase given over to the Americans – and created an movemnt. And HERE WE STAND: women changing the world, by Helena Earnshaw and Angharad Penrhyn Jones, a fascinating and unique anthology about contemporary women campaigners and how they were changed by the process of changing the world.

We are looking forward to celebrating more feminist books not just during Feminist Book Fortnight, but for the rest of the year!

Helena Earnshaw

 

 


Feminist Book Fortnight was launched in 2018, by a group of radical and independent bookshops around the UK and Ireland, led by the wonderful Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, as a celebration of feminist books. In 2019 even more independent bookshops, arts centres, feminist libraries and more around the country and abroad highlighted the diversity of feminist books over the two weeks with displays of books and lots of events. Participating bookshops reported lots of full events and a “thirst” for discussion of feminist issues as well as celebration of feminist achievements.

There has been an explosion of new feminist publishing in the last two to three years. Younger feminists are also discovering feminist classics. Independent bookshops wanted to celebrate these authors but also provide space for discussions and learning. Feminist Book Fortnight is a wonderful celebration of feminist publishing. If you missed out this year, then sign up for next year’s events – and maybe plan something yourself?

Keep in touch at:  https://feministbookfortnight.wordpress.com/ @FeministBkFt19

 

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Lost Voices: Welsh Women’s Classics

Queens of the Rushes team are: Helena Earnshaw: Cycle/Marketing, Tricia Chapman: Swim/Production, Caroline Oakley/Editorial. Alison Greeley/Finance did the whole thing!

The Queens of the Rushes

The Honno staff recently teamed up to ensure that one of their Welsh Women’s Classic titles: Queen of the Rushes by Allen Raine is brought back into print.

Queen of the Rushes sold over 300,000 copies at the beginning of the 20th century, when it was first published. It was made into one of the first British silent movies and was the first title in Honno’s Welsh Women’s Classics series. It is hugely deserving of remaining in print and the Honno staff swam, cycled and ran in the DYFI DASH triathlon on April 7th to raise money for a new edition to ensure it continues to be read. It is a tale that maps out a distinctly Welsh literary landscape and demonstrates Raine’s powers as storyteller, delineator of character and social historian.

Thank you to all who have supported our fundraising so far. There is still time to support us at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/honno

Jane Aaron, editor of the Welsh Women’s Classics explains why they are so important, below.

ps. we all completed the event successfully and had fun doing so!


Lost Voices: Welsh Women’s Classics

The aim of the Honno Welsh women’s classics series is to bring back into print the lost voices of Welsh women’s writing, and what they have to tell us of Welsh women’s history, for the benefit of new generations.

It’s over thirty years since Honno Press was founded, and one of the first books the Press produced was the autobiography of the Welsh nurse and traveller Betsy Cadwaladyr, originally published in 1857 but out of print for over a century, during which time Betsy’s story was virtually forgotten. Born and raised near Bala, Betsy told the tale of her global adventures, which included nursing with Florence Nightingale in Balaclava, to the then eminent but also subsequently forgotten historian and poet Jane Williams, who set it down in print. Before 1987 Betsy and her story were virtually unknown in Wales, and it is unlikely that she would be enjoying her current fame without that Honno Press publication. Deirdre Beddoe, who wrote the introduction, gave a copy of the book to a professor in the Department of Nursing at the then University of Glamorgan; that professor subsequently named a student’s training hospital ward at the University the Betsy Cadwaldr Ward. Thus remembrance of Betsy’s name and her story was revived in medical circles, and ‘Betsy Cadwaladr’ was finally established as the name of the Health Trust in north Wales.

Honno’s Welsh Women’s Classics series has also had an impact on the teaching of Welsh writing in English at Higher Education levels. In the 1980s, though what was then called ‘Anglo-Welsh Literature’ was being taught at Aberystwyth, Swansea, Bangor and Lampeter universities, very few women authors were included in the syllabus. In 1990 only one woman writer was included in the Welsh writing in English modules at Aberystwyth University – the Welsh-language novelist Kate Roberts, taught in translation. Since then the ratio of women authors to men on these syllabuses has been transformed, and Honno can take a large part of the credit for this change. 33 women writers, compared to 44 men, featured on Welsh university syllabuses in 2013, and 21 of those 33 women appeared in the Welsh Women’s Classics.

The question then arises: why were these women’s books ever allowed to fall out of print in the first place? The publishing career of Menna Gallie helps to explain that process. A mid-twentieth-century author from Ystradgynlais in the south Wales valleys, Gallie is today an important figure within the Welsh canon because not only was she an excellent novelist, witty and empathic, but also because she was one of the few writers recording in detail the experience of working-class women in the coalfields during the heyday of King Coal. But Gallie’s reputation was affected by the double disadvantage which all Welsh women writers pre Honno suffered, that is, she was Welsh and she was a woman.

Before the 1970s, and the development of English-language publishing in Wales,  most Welsh writers in English, including Gallie, were published in London, where their work tended to be categorised as ‘provincial’. Secondly, and this is true for all women writers, of course, publishers, like critics, reviewers and university lecturers, tended until quite recently to be predominantly male.

But with her re-emergence in the Welsh Women’s Classics series, Gallie’s voice was rediscovered, along with that of many another writer, some of whom experienced a yet further disadvantage, being not only Welsh and female but also of another ethnic minority. It is particularly important in these post-Brexit days that we value the contribution to Welsh culture of such writers, Lily Tobias, who was raised in Ystalyfera in the 1880s and 1890s, was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland. When her novel on conscientious objectors during the First World War, Eunice Fleet, which first appeared in 1933, was republished by Honno a reviewer in the journal Mslexia remarked

This is an important book to be made available and I found myself wondering why it had ever been lost.

Traditionally it was supposed that women, by and large, had little to say about political issues apart from feminist ones. But that supposition is only arrived at by those who neglect the actual evidence of women’s voices often raised in political protest. In order to give Welsh women’s political voices a hearing once more, the historian Ursula Masson and I brought out an anthology of Welsh women’s political writings, The Very Salt of Life.

Until quite recently it was thought that Welsh women had not made much of a contribution to the pre First World War suffragette movement. That misinformation is now being corrected, in part because of Honno’s resurrection of voices like that of Rachel Barrett, whose ‘Autobiography’ written in 1924 only existed in manuscript form in the Museum of London’s archives before Honno republished it in The Very Salf of Life. Rachel Barrett writes:

I was born in Carmarthen of Welsh, Welsh-speaking parents.  In 1905 I became science mistress at Penarth County School…and it was during this time that I became interested in the new movement for woman suffrage…Adela Pankhurst came to Cardiff as WSPU organiser [the militant branch of the suffragette movement] and I helped her in her work

Christabel Pankhurst asked me to give my whole time to the movement…. I was sorry to give up my work at the School and all that it meant [she was by then studying for doctorate in science – it meant giving up on a career] but this was a definite call and I obeyed…I became organiser for Wales…

In the autumn [of 1912] I was asked to take charge of the new paper The Suffragette…In April 1913 when we were making up the paper a group of CID men appeared and the staff of the paper were arrested…At the Old Bailey trial I was sentenced [to 2 months in prison]… …I was released on licence after a 5 days’ hunger strike…. In about 3 weeks time, I was re-arrested. This time I was in for 4 days…. When I had recovered I was re-arrested. This time I did the thirst strike as well as the hunger strike and was released after, I think, 5 days feeling very ill…I was smuggled into Kingsway House under the eyes of the detectives. I lived there bringing out The Suffragette as before, never leaving the office and taking my exercise on the roof.[1]

She carried on editing The Suffragette till it came to an end with the suffrage movement’s cessation of activities at the outbreak of the First World War, by the close of which, of course, women had won the vote. Her contribution to the Women’s Cause went unnoticed for years, but it was an essential one, and it is now being recognised – there’s a detailed entry on Rachel Barrett in Wikipedia, for example. Another lost voice restored, thanks to the Welsh Women’s Classics series.


Jane Aaron: Emeritus Professor of Literature at the University of South Wales,  is the editor of the Honno Classics English-language series (known as the Welsh Women’s Classics). Born in Aberystwyth, she has now returned to the town and taken up her old place on the Honno Committee once again. Her publications include Pur fel y Dur: Y Gymraes yn Llên Menywod y Bedwaredd Ganrif ar Bymtheg (1998), which won the Ellis Griffith prize in 1999, and Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing in Wales (2007), winner of the Roland Mathias Award in 2009. She also co-edited the essay collections Our Sisters’ Land: The Changing Identities of Women in Wales (1994), Postcolonial Wales (2005) and Gendering Border Studies (2010).

 

[1] Rachel Barrett, ‘Autobiography’, mss c. 1924, in Museum of London, ref. 57.116/47, in The Very Salt of Life, pp. 298-302

Feminism and Women’s Presses

I first began to identify as a feminist at the age of twenty. As a teenager I came into contact with feminist ideas from reading novels like Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and plays such as Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, but I didn’t yet realise that I could be a feminist or that I could contribute to this dialogue in some way. My relationship with feminism changed in 2001 when I stumbled across the Silver Moon Bookshop on Charing Cross Road and encountered my first literary, feminist space.

I think Silver Moon and the extensive selection of books it stocked altered my understanding of feminism, as it enabled me to connect what had been an abstract philosophy to a living movement which could potentially be a force for change. During this summer I visited the Silver Moon a number of times to buy novels and browse large art books, discovering the works of Judy Chicago and Georgia O’Keeffe in the process. Running my fingers along the spines I came across names of publishers I’d never heard of before such as The Feminist Press, Pandora Press, The Women’s Press and Virago. It was here I bought my first Virago title: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler. I think as a newly identifying feminist I was drawn to the provocative title and plus it was the perfect reading material for the train to accompany my newly shaved head and pink Doc Martens!

Now, sixteen years later, my feminism is more often expressed in the petitions I share on social media than in my appearance, but reading feminist and women’s literature published by the presses I discovered at Silver Moon has remained a constant. I have also discovered a few more along the way including Honno Welsh Women’s Press when I moved to Wales. During a recent discussion hosted by The Women’s Equality Network Wales in partnership with Honno I began to think more about these different labels such as ‘feminist’ and ‘women’s’ and what they have come to represent in publishing.

At the end of the 1980s, not long after Honno was founded, Nicci Gerrard questioned feminist publishing’s narrow commitment to ‘books about feminism’ and suggested an increase in the publication of ‘books influenced by feminism.’[1] Fifteen years on Simone Murray asked: ‘[W]hen is a women’s press a Feminist Press?’ and ‘does a press’s feminism reside in its means or its ends?’[2] In 2014 Catherine Riley concluded that Virago’s takeover in 1995 by Little, Brown (now owned by the mainstream conglomerate Hachette Livre) means that they now ‘reach a wide audience’. She concludes that ‘Virago has certainly adapted its way of conveying feminist messages, but retains its quiet influence. This has kept it relevant, continuing the attempt to convey feminist politics through publishing’.[3]

Therefore, is a press only a feminist press if all aspects of its operations are feminist-minded? And can this only be achieved if a press remains independent? Or is it the case that the ‘feminism’ resides in the output? But then should the output be solely about feminism or can it be more broadly influenced by feminism? Should feminist presses only be run by and publish women or is feminism actually a mind-set, an approach to be actioned by individuals of any gender? If a press is subsumed by a mainstream publisher is it a compromise or a progression? Although these questions are too vast to answer here they do reveal a complexity of purpose and thought which needs to be engaged with when discussing the future of women’s and feminist presses. Since the period of second-wave feminism – when many of these independent presses were first established – the publishing industry has changed dramatically and, as a result, presses like Honno are navigating a constantly shifting landscape whilst still trying to fulfil their key founding principles.

Here We Stand book coverHonno can be labelled a women’s press because it publishes only women and even though not every title is explicitly about feminism Honno is certainly motivated by a feminist agenda. For example its commitment to publishing reprints of titles by women long out of print reintroduces the writings of our ‘literary foremothers’ to the reading community. This series highlights a distinct women’s canon and provides further evidence of a history of feminist consciousness pre-1970.[4] Alongside its fiction list, Honno publishes biographies of women such as the Jewish writer from Wales Lily Tobias. Books like The Greatest Need reveal a history of female activism and creativity in Wales often hidden from view. As well as bringing to light Wales’ feminist history Honno also strives to document contemporary women campaigners. A good example is Honno’s recent anthology Here We Stand: a collection of interviews and articles which give an insight into modern issues, highlighting why the feminist movement is still relevant today.     

Although not a physical bookshop like Silver Moon was, Honno has also created a feminist, literary space which can potentially be a force for a change. It puts forward an alternative historical narrative which reveals a rich seam of feminist thought and action in Wales. This strategy continues to raise the profile of female writings whilst curating a historical foundation on which Honno’s contemporary writers can build. In her article on Virago press, Catherine Riley decries ‘the relative lack of published work on the important phenomenon of feminist publishing.’[5] Therefore, as Honno celebrates its thirtieth birthday is it now time for their contribution to feminism in Wales to be fully evaluated?

Biography

Calista Williams recently completed her PhD on ‘The National Library of Wales and National Identity c.1840-1916’ which was assisted by an innovative collaboration between the Open University and the National Library of Wales. She is currently researching the lives of the women who used the National Library when it first opened in 1909. Calista is now a Lifelong Learning Humanities teacher at Aberystwyth University.

caw52@aber.ac.uk

@Ca7ista

 

HONNO ARE CELEBRATING FEMINIST BOOK FORTNIGHT ON THE 20TH JUNE 2018, 6.30PM, AT THE BOOKSHOP, ABERYSTWYTH ARTS CENTRE.

 

[1] Nicci Gerrard, Into the Mainstream. How Feminism Has Changed Women’s Writing (London: Pandora Press, 1989), p.25.

[2] Simone Murray, ‘The Cuala Press: Women, publishing, and the conflicted genealogies of ‘feminist publishing’’, Women’s Studies International Forum, No.27 (2004), pp.489-506, pp.492-493.

[3] Catherine Riley, ‘‘The Message is in the Book’: What Virago’s Sale in 1995 Means for Feminist Publishing’, Women: A Cultural Review, Vol.25, No.3 (2014), pp.235-255, p.253.

[4] Cherie Kramarae and Dale Spender ‘Exploding Knowledge’ in Kramarae and Spender (eds.), The Knowledge Explosion. Generations of Feminst Scholarship (New York: Teachers College Press, 1992), pp.1-26, p.18.

[5] Riley, ‘‘The Message is in the Book’, p.236.

 

Honno Press – over 30 years of creating, publishing and companionship

An early Honno committee meeting with Luned Meredith, Althea Osmond, Rosanne Reeves, Leigh Verrill-Rhys (l-r) © Suzanne Greenslade

Back in October 1986 Honno was established as a Welsh Women’s Community Co-operative, the ‘Community’ being Wales. This was not a sudden event but a part and reflection of the enthusiasm and excitement which developed amongst women in Wales in political, academic and literary circles in a far-reaching campaign to draw attention to, and transform the sexist attitudes towards the role of the woman in the home and communities of Wales.

In the early 1980s Women’s Sections were established by Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party in Wales; a number of refuges were opened for women in Wales by Welsh Women’s aid; programmes on the history of women were broadcast, produced by new feminist independent companies; a series of articles were published discussing ‘the problems and aspirations of the women of our nation and other nations of the world’ in Asen Adda (Gomer 1975) edited by Ruth Stephens; the title Out of the Shadows (University of Wales Press 1981) by Deirdre Beddoe was published, creating a stir when she announced that Welsh women were invisible in the history of their country and in January 1986, to the great surprise of many, a special edition of the literary male-centered journal Y Traethodydd was dedicated to Welsh language literature and feminist criticism, written jointly by Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Kathryn Curtis, Elin ap Hywel and Marged Haycock. Around this time many students took an interest in, and specialised in women’s studies thus enriching the literary scene in Wales by presenting papers and books on all aspects of the life of women in Wales.

Caroline Oakley, Honno’s Editor, and Eurwen Booth, Committee member, toast Honno, at the 30th celebration. © Maria Wyles

 

In such an atmosphere, unsurprisingly, a group of women from different parts of Wales had the same idea at the same time, i.e. that now was the time to establish a publishing venture promoting writings by the neglected women writers of Wales. Numerous meetings and discussions followed and it was decided to assess the demand by writing to some hundreds of individuals asking them to buy as many £5 shares as they liked (with one vote for each shareholder at AGMs). We were encouraged by the response. We raised around £4000, and it became obvious that there was support for the idea. As a result Honno was founded, under the care of a voluntary executive committee including Kathryn Curtis, Ann Howells, Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Luned Meredith, Althea Osmond, Rosanne Reeves and Leigh Verrill-Rhys.

 

Over 30 years later we are delighted that these determined and passionate women have been recognised, with the Honno founders being included in WEN Wales’s list of 100 legendary Welsh Women.

Some of WEN Wales’s 100 legendary Welsh women with Honno founders Sheleagh Llewellyn, Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan and Rosanne Reeves (back row, 6,7,8 from left).

However, much more needs to be done, since there are many other female writers waiting to be taken out from the shadows – historical personalities, who worked tirelessly in their communities, and who portrayed their experiences in fiction and fact. As well as continuing to give a voice to the great contemporary women writers of Wales. Without doubt, we still need a publishing house like Honno, the only independent women’s press of note still remaining in the United Kingdom. And so, we look forward confidently to another 30 years!

 

 

 

 


 

Rosanne Reeves, is one of Honno’s founding members, Editor of the Clasuron Honno, and author of Dwy Gymraes, Dwy Gymru: Hanes Bywyd a Gwaith Gwyneth Vaughan a Sara Maria Saunders; Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 2014 .

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