Why a Campaign to ‘Reclaim’ Women Writers’ Names Is So Controversial
“Critics say Reclaim Her Name fails to reflect the array of reasons authors chose to publish under male pseudonyms”
Nora McGreevy reports in Smithsonian Magazine about the Reclaim Her Name project recently launched by the Women’s Prize for Fiction in conjunction with Baileys (of Irish cream liqueur fame).
More about the project in a minute. But first, a personal digression. When I click on the link for the Reclaim Her Name project given in the opening paragraph of this article, I get sent to a page with this URL: https://www.baileys.com/en-gb/reclaim-her-name-campaign . OK, since Baileys is a sponsor. But there’s an overlay on the page that requires me to submit my birthday: “Can we see some ID please? It’s part of our commitment to responsible drinking.” I can’t get into the site without giving them my birthdate. An ID to read about books? I don’t think so. Consequently, I can only report on McGreevy’s article, not on the Reclaim Her Name project itself.
According to McGreevy, the Reclaim Her Name project, “a joint initiative honoring the literary award’s 25th anniversary,” focuses on “25 classic and lesser-known works by authors who historically wrote under male pseudonyms.” The Reclaim Her Name collection comprises free ebooks that feature the writers’ actual names on the covers.
But, McGreevy writes, “Despite its arguably well-intentioned aims, Reclaim Her Name quickly attracted criticism from scholars and authors, many of whom cited a number of historical inaccuracies embedded in the project.” Most complaints, many of which this article links to, involve a general disregard for the reasons why individual authors chose to publish these works under pseudonyms.
Are Little Free Libraries helping locals survive COVID? L.A. weighs in
This article from the Los Angeles Times delves into the history of the Little Free Library movement as well as the benefits and problems of unmonitored distribution of books during a health epidemic.
The Ox-Bow Incident: William Wellman’s stunning Western illuminates how righteous cowboys can become a mob of vigilantes
The Ox-Bow Incident is one of the best novels to illustrate how a writer can use language to convey a character’s state of mind. In this essay for the Library of America, Michael Sragow argues that the 1943 film version of The Ox-Bow Incident “generates a visceral and emotional force that equals or surpasses the power of Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s ruminative, soul-quaking 1940 novel.”
“Lolita” Belongs to the Girls Who Lived It
Lilly Dancyger looks at Alisson Wood’s memoir Being Lolita, which Cancyger calls “a fearless interrogation of her own experience being groomed and manipulated by an older man—and a reclaiming of the narrative of Lolita, reminding readers that the cultural understanding of the novel still tends to favor the predator’s perspective, and that teenage girls need support, not objectification.”
Has Self-Awareness Gone Too Far in Fiction?
Katy Waldman addresses what she calls the reflexivity trap in fiction:
This is the implicit, and sometimes explicit, idea that professing awareness of a fault absolves you of that fault—that lip service equals resistance. The problem with such signalling is that it rarely resolves the anxieties that seem to prompt it. Mocking your emotions, or expressing doubt or shame about them, doesn’t negate those emotions; castigating yourself for hypocrisy, cowardice, or racism won’t necessarily make you less hypocritical, cowardly, or racist. As the cracks in our systems become increasingly visible, the reflexivity trap casts self-awareness as a finish line, not a starting point. To the extent that this discourages further action, oblivion might be preferable.
Caroline Leavitt on Writing the Disconnected Self
“How Life’s Shifting Identities Filter Into the Work of a Novelist”
Novelist Caroline Leavitt discusses how personality changes can occur and how she explored their significance in writing her books:
I realize that the only thing any of us—including my characters—can know is that everything you thought you knew about yourself or others can derail. But unexpected transformation can also revive, burnishing new possibilities you never expected, and that new person you might become can actually turn out to be your truest self of all.
7 Best Mystery Books (According to Mystery Experts)
I love mysteries and thrillers, and I’ve read a lot of them.
This list of reading recommendations, by the PBS show MASTERPIECE Mystery!, comes from the creators and writers of the program Grantchester as well as “ a selection of mystery insiders.” The list includes works by the following authors:
- Louise Penny
- Nicholas Blake
- Kate Griffin
- Thomas H. Cook
- Eva Dolan
- Margaret Millar
- Anthony Oliver
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown
2 thoughts on “Literary Links”
The Reclaim Her Name project has been a sloppy mess. Someone, presumably Bailey’s as I’d hope The Women’s Prize committee would have more sense, employed a marketing agency to ‘research’ (quickly Google) the books, with very little thought into what was being reclaimed. I’ve read some of the introductions, shared on social media, and they are perfect examples of how marketing language strips out all nuance, reducing facts to the easiest level of accessibility. Another example of the intern the marketing agency used (I can’t say employed, they probably weren’t paid) not having the research skills needed is the use of Frederick Douglass’s photograph on the cover of Whipper’s biography of Martin R Delaney.
In defence of the series, the organisations involved are now suggesting that their sloppiness is at least provoking debate, as though it’s a good thing that living women writers who write under pseudonyms are being forced into justifying their choices. N K Jemisin was approached and turned them down. Not just because the name she writes fiction under doesn’t need to be reclaimed, they wanted to use her book for free.
And I hadn’t realised that the information on the Bailey’s site is barred to anyone undet the age of 18. So much for the idea being to make these works widely accessible (but not to people who can’t use ereaders and aren’t near one of the select few libraries receiving the paper copies of the books).
A bad idea all round, really!
Having written an essay already, I’ll spare you my detailed comments on the Little Free Library article and just say, such snobbery about what is and isn’t readable!
I had a similar reaction to the Reclaim Her Name Project, Jan, although I hadn’t thought it all out in such depth. Thanks for your input. And I also had a similar reaction to the Little Free Library story. Some people . . .
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