It’s International Women’s Day 2017 and the 4th Estate team is celebrating the work of women who have inspired us through their writing. From teaching us that being silly is okay to enabling us to appreciate beautiful writing.
I didn’t have my big ‘aha! – gender is a construct!’ moment until I went to uni and discovered Judith Butler.
But, looking back, I was primed so perfectly – mainly because of my enduring love for Louise Rennison and her Georgia Nicolson series.
She taught me that girls could be silly and uninhibited and daft and hilarious, and that female friendship is complex, often fraught, but the glue that keeps everything together during those turbulent teenage years. In the first book, after going to a fancy dress party as a stuffed olive, she is told that ‘boys don’t like girls for funniness’. But this assessment is repeatedly challenged over the course of the books – wit, intelligence and irreverence triumphs, even at 14 years old.
Through Georgia, Rennison playfully lambasts the rituals of encroaching womanhood – she accidentally shaves off her eyebrows and can’t go out for a week, she dyes her hair with peroxide only for it to snap off during a passionate moment with Robbie (aka the Sex God). She is genuinely baffled by the conflicting advice of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and the columns of women’s magazines: ‘I am going to become a writer for Cosmo – you don’t have to make any sense at all’.
Because of Georgia, I never apologised for knowing the right answer, for putting my opinions, however provocative, above any deference to a guy’s ego.
I don’t know who I would be had I not devoured these books at such an impressionable age.
Roxane Gay has been a vocal and brave commentator on topics as wide-ranging as female friendship, police brutality, feminism, TV… the list goes on. She has written across formats and publications, humanizing those of us who, disappointingly, still need to be.
Her latest physical release is Difficult Women. God knows many of us can relate to this double-edged phrase, which here is a celebration. The collection contains 21 short stories, no two resemble one other, each taking on a striking voice or stance about the lives of women. In her fiction the metaphorical seamlessly forks into real life and the fantastical – such as with The Mark of Cain, about loving two twins, and I Am A Knife. The latter intermittently adopts its title as a poetic mantra then an actual object. With each new flawed life presented I found myself breathless on the edge of my seat. In Gay’s oeuvre, womanhood encompasses my favourite term of the year: multitudes. Fiction, comic books, poetry, academia, criticism: Gay is an all-rounder and an inspiration. My fave is emblematic – a multitude in herself.
Words from Marianne Tatepo – Publishing Executive
I’ve loved Alison Bechdel’s work ever since I read Fun Home as a teenager. She can write, she can draw, and she can make you laugh and cry in a single panel. She understands people more than any writer I know, and gives voice to the marginalised in the most eloquent and empathetic way. When she brought the Dykes to Watch Out For out of retirement after the American Presidential election, it made the world feel a little less apocalyptic. We need artists like her now more than ever.
Words from Tom Killingbeck – Assistant Commissioning Editor
Jackie Kay is one of my favourite writers and I love the warmth and soul with which she infuses her work, which is often concerned with identity and belonging, and a sense of place. Born in 1961 to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father, she was later adopted by a white Scottish couple and grew up in Glasgow. It was a happy household where she always felt loved, but when she fell pregnant with her own son in 1988 she was spurred into tracing her roots, and went in search of her birth parents. Red Dust Road, her best-selling memoir, is the result. With wit, wisdom, sincerity and generosity she tells the story of her quest to make sense of her origins, her family (both biological and adoptive), and her complex relationship with her Scottish identity, including a realisation that being black and Scottish didn’t have to preclude each other. Her poetry collection Fiere (a Scots word meaning ‘companion’ or ‘friend’), is full of rich, sparkling, gorgeous language, and is also a complex and moving exploration of home, origins and the ties that define us. As well as her memoir she has published a novel, several short story and poetry collections, and also writes for stage, and she was recently named Scotland’s third Makar (poet laureate).
Lottie Fyfe – Project Editor
Eleanor Catton is seen as a bit of a cultural icon for young women in New Zealand. Not only is the Eleanor the youngest recipient of the Man Booker Prize for her epic novel The Luminaries, but also only the second New Zealander in the history to win. Upon accepting the prize, she used the public attention to highlight the lack of funding the local arts community receives in New Zealand, sparking a nationwide debate on the governments contribution to literature and making her a (rather controversial) international ambassador.
Katy Asbury – Sales Executive
People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.
I love Iris Murdoch. I love her novels, I love her letters, I love her philosophy. I love her insistence on the importance of ‘continuous small treats’, whether they be boiled onions, roses, fireworks, love affairs, or, for me, her own wonderful books.
Words from lettice Franklin – Assistant Commissioning Editor
What I admire most about Maggie Nelson’s writing is the way it squirms. It avoids being pinned down any way it can. The Red Parts is true-crime reportage that criticises its own moral and formal worth. Bluets is a stunning collection of prose poetry that’s willing to be unpoetic in places. The Argonauts is memoir and criticism and poetry, that for all it’s literary qualities still radiates a comforting warmth. Everything she does offers a radical new way of seeing the world, and finds fresh ways to make my bottom lip quiver.
Words from Jordan Mulligan- Project Editorial Assistant
The elation I felt in seeing my country of origin Cameroon (west Africa), being talked about and celebrated in Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, was incredible. The story explores an experience that touches many African people. For those who choose to leave their native African homelands in search of a more promising future, Imbolo writes truthfully about their struggle once they arrive in the so-called ‘promise land’. Like the characters in this book, many attempt to hold onto a diminishing American dream and some can end up almost losing it all.
Words from Bengono Bessala – Marketing Assistant