In 2014, the Australian Women Writers challenge attracted 1578 reviews of books by Australian women (and there may be more to come). That’s a fantastic achievement and I want to thank you all – readers, bloggers, writers and the AWW team volunteers.
As you probably know, the AWW challenge was established at the end of 2011 in response to discussions about gender bias in the reviewing of books by women. (If you’re new to the challenge, you can read more here.) Although I ran the challenge for the first year, it has always been a team effort, with the real work being done by the many book bloggers – mostly women and a few men – who for the past three years have been reading and reviewing books by Australian women. We have posted our reviews on blogs, Goodreads and other platforms; chatted about them on Twitter and Facebook; talked about the challenge at festivals; seen it mentioned on writers’ centre websites and in mainstream media; and we’ve encouraged others to join us – both as participants and as volunteers to help run the challenge websites. Behind the scenes, the AWW team has been posting regular round-ups of the reviews linked to the challenge, updating the database with images of book covers, and checking links entered in the “Link Your Review” form.
In my case, as well as contributing to the above tasks, I’ve tried to read posts by challenge participants, responding sometimes with a “like”, sometimes with a comment. Via Twitter, I’ve broadcast reviews of participants who tweet including “@auswomenwriters” or the challenge hashtag, and I’ve kept an eye on the AWW Facebook page. As much work as this involves, I know there are many reviews I haven’t read or responded to, and I feel I’ve done comparatively little to show challenge participants how much their efforts are appreciated. At least one person I know, an early member of the challenge, didn’t sign up this year after noticing their “likes” and “comments” on their reviews on Goodreads had dropped off.
This signals to me the importance of continuing to invite others to help build a community of readers, and show participants just how much their reviews are contributing to something bigger. This year saw the #readwomen2014 campaign on Twitter, a global movement with similar aims to the AWW challenge. It was a great success, but ongoing work is still needed. Both VIDA and the Stella Award published counts of reviews in literary journals during 2013. The counts demonstrate that the number of reviews of books by women continues to lag behind the number of reviews of books by men. We won’t know the count for 2014 until next year – and hopefully there’ll be an improvement. But whatever it is, we can be confident that we’re doing our bit to help raise the profile of this important issue.
Why is it important?
Let’s not even go down the track of discussing the gender pay gap, statistics on violence towards women, the decreasing number of female CEOs and parliamentary ministers, or how the lack of acknowledgement of women’s achievements generally may help to perpetuate entrenched injustices. Let’s focus on the writers. The AustLit account on Twitter recently noted that its database has entries for 38 500 individual Australian women writers. (There are probably more, but some women aren’t identified as they published using initials.) But how many of those have you heard of? How many have you read? This morning, I was trawling through Librivox and Project Gutenberg Australia for free audio and ebooks of out-of-copyright books by Australian women. Just a quick glance at the lists makes it obvious how few books there are by women in comparison to books by men. If we want the voices of Australian women of the twenty-first century to go down in history, the work starts now, with us. Without records, without evidence books by Australian women are being read and appreciated, historians of the future may think they weren’t good enough to be remembered, when clearly this isn’t true.
The AWW Challenge will continue in 2015, with the aim of continuing to promote and support books by Australian women. Until now, we’ve had two websites, one for the blog and one for the review lists (or three, if you count the AWW Challenge Goodreads page). The new site is a work in progress, but it will have a searchable database, making it easier for readers to find participants’ reviews. My hope is readers – librarians, teachers, bloggers, writers and researchers – will follow the links and show appreciation by “liking” or commenting on the reviews of the books they discover. This will help consolidate and grow the AWW reading community. I’d also encourage people to subscribe to the AWW blog via email (see side bar) and discuss their reading on social media using the challenge hashtag: #aww2015. If you have any other ideas how we can raise the profile of Australian women writers, or if you’d like to volunteer to help behind the scenes or contribute to the AWW blog, please let me know.
So, who’s in for 2015? You can sign up here.
About Elizabeth Lhuede: With help from members of the Aussie book-blogging community, I founded the AWW challenge in late 2011, aiming to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. My debut novel, Snowy River Man – a rural romance with suspense elements – will be published by Escape Publishing on 22 February 2015 under my pen-name, Lizzy Chandler. In between writing, I read and post reviews at Devoted Eclectic. I also tweet via @elizabethlhuede, @auswomenwriters and @Lizzy_Chandler.
Thanks for the work you put into the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which I enjoy as a reader and an occasional reviewer. I enjoy Paper.Li, too, after reading it a few times. The new website sounds amazing, with a searchable data base of reviews of books for the AWW Challenge. It has been sometimes difficult to find reviews by other people, especially after a few months. Thanks again.
Thanks for the feedback, Maureen. I forgot to mention the paper. It is set up to include links from Twitter automatically, and I only edit out the odd links that creep in from time to time (like pictures of puppies and kittens that people post as #aww). Yes, I hope the new system will help people find reviews. We’re using the sponsorship money from BookWorld to finance the development, so I hope participants can support them, too. (Sounds like I should to do another post soon!) There are still bugs to iron out – for example, I didn’t receive notification of your comment – it’s a work in progress. So glad someone out there is finding it valuable! Have you subscribed to the website or do you use Twitter to discover what we’ve posted?
I’ve subscribed to the website, Elizabeth. I don’t yet use Twitter. Obviously I should! I guess it’s time to give up using increasing age as an excuse. Wonderful about the Bookworld sponsorship. It will be easy to mention them in my review blogs. Being more generous about liking and commenting on reviews would help this online community grow, too. Glad you and Louise Allan have reminded me.
I find Twitter amazing for throwing up links to articles I would otherwise not have read. And it’s a great forum for sharing one’s reading through hashtags such as #amreading. As for the Bookworld sponsorship, I’m sure they’d be thrilled to have you plug their site. I’m glad you’ve been reminded about commenting. The more we remember to comment, the greater the sense of a reading community we’ll help to build.
I’m still getting used to Twitter – so thanks for the #amreading tag.
Twitter does seem to be good for readalongs & zeitgeist issues.
You’re doing a great job and I hope the AWW Challenge continues for many years to come.
I’m disappointed to learn a reviewer dropped out because they weren’t getting Likes and Comments on their page. I read many blogs but I simply don’t have time to comment on all of them, especially the prolific reviewers! I want them to know, though, their reviews help when it comes to deciding which book I buy or read next. So, thank you. And thank you in particular to Emily at The Incredible Rambling Elimy; to Monique at Write, Note, Reviews; to Sue at Whispering Gums; to Natasha Lester, Amanda Curtin and Anabel Smith all of whom blog about the books they’re reading; to Shelley at Book’d Out; to Angela at Literary Minded; to Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best; to Lisa at Welcome to My Library; to Rachel at Leather Bound Pounds; to Bernadette at Reactions to Reading; to Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling; and to everyone else whose book review I read in 2014 even if I didn’t comment. You are doing a great job in raising the awareness of good writing by Australian women, so please continue—your reviews are noticed even if you feel as if they’re not.
Louise, I hope we keep the team going for many years, too, and thanks for being an active part of the challenge – and I’ll certainly pass on your message to the others. Like you, I don’t have the time to comment on most posts, but I do want to make more of an effort this year – especially with the occasional reviewers. I’m sure it must be lonely for the smaller bloggers out there who don’t know if anyone is reading and appreciating their work.
This was a great post to read about the state of things and where to next. I was talking with a friend who is a library officer for a high school about bringing the challenge up with her colleagues in the hope of getting students involved – either directly through lesson plans or indirectly through a library display. She was very positive about that so I am hoping that it will happen for her – I’d love to know if other school libraries are doing the challenge and what the reviews are from the students and so on, they’d be wonderful to read!
I didn’t do much reading of other reviews this year – I was very busy myself but also I had the same difficulty as another poster in finding the reviews months later. I love the idea of it all being here and searchable! I’m also going to look through the Goodreads bookshelf you’ve linked for ideas as well.
Ju, that sounds really exciting. The more librarians, teachers and teacher-librarians get involved, the better. If your friend does go through with it, I would love to publish something about how her class goes on the AWW blog later in the year. Perhaps you could mention the idea to her? We could even showcase a couple of the class’s favourite reviews. (Or snippets of reviews, or a group progject, if she didn’t feel comfortable singling out individuals.)
Something weird here, Elizabeth – the avatars/icons for the commenters are obscuring part of the comment text. (At least they are on Safari on my laptop and on my iPad).
Anyhow, thanks for this post. I enjoy being part of the team and expect to be for some time yet. No promises as life events can change one’s goals but at present I’m happy to continue into the future. It’s a wonderful team effort from both coordinators and our regular reviewers and commenters.
However, like Louise, I was a little disappointed to hear that someone hadn’t renewed because of reduced likes and comments. Like Louise (and, Louise, you do a lovely job of commenting) I do try to read many of the reviews but time is limited and I just can’t get around them all. I realise now that when I check reviews for my monthly round-ups I often don’t comment – too busy thinking about the roundup, but at least the blogger will get a hit count!
Anyhow, thanks again Elizabeth for steering this project. I love that it’s taken off so well and that it is gaining traction in Australia’s literary firmament.
Sue, I missed this comment (and didn’t receive a notification email), so please excuse the late reply. Holly has fixed the avatar problem, I think. (Check if it’s okay on yours; it is on mine.) So glad you’re able to continue with your involvement. Of course, none of us know what the year will bring, but we can start out with good intentions. Judging from the sign-up posts I’ve seen on Twitter, it looks like we’ll have lots of new participants this year, so even if people drop off it’s not such a worry. It’d be great, though, if we were able to retain our core reviewers. And yes, it does seem to be gaining some recognition in the “literary firmament”!
I love this site, even though this will be my first year joining in the challenge. I’ve discovered so many wonderful Australian blogs via the reviews and comments here.
The wordpress ‘like’ button is great for those times when I’m too rushed to write a thoughtful comment. It would be nice if blogger had one too. It can be discouraging if you feel like you’re writing into a void.
I’m very excited about participating in this years challenge…& delighted to say that one of my current NY reads is an Aussie one – Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey.
Thank you all for encouraging us to read more Australian women.
Thanks, Brona. We’re still ironing out some bugs with the new website. (I wasn’t notified of your post, otherwise I would’ve replied sooner.) I look forward to seeing what you review throughout the year.