It’s International Women’s Day and a perfect opportunity to celebrate women and non-binary writers. I love doing this because it’s actually a twofer: a celebration and a revolutionary act against injustice and inequality in the literary community and society at large. Let me explain.
I don’t know about you, but in my day-to-day, I tend to protect people from my darkest feelings (hello suppressed anger, my old friend), and I hide my most difficult experiences. I avoid being too much. But writing is the place where I get to be too much, where I can bring the full range of my emotions and experiences to the page.
Because as women we’re socialized not to tell our stories, reading and supporting women and non-binary writers can be both transgressive and exhilarating. (Woo-hoo!)
Alas, the literary establishment hasn’t been as exhilarated about us. Our writing has often been classified as not literary, confessional, navel-gazing, or—my favourite pejorative—domestic. (I refer you to VIDA and CWILA for some of the evidence of bias against women’s writing—as well as those against LGBTQ+ writing, and writers of colour.)
Ready to resist and revel with me on this International Women’s Day? Here are five ways to celebrate women and non-binary writers.
1) Read women and non-binary writers and attend their readings
There are so many great lists out there. You can grab one you fancy, or start your own and get reading. Make sure your list has plenty of writers whose experiences differ from yours in race, class, or sexuality.
Consider challenging yourself to read x number of books by women and non-binary people this year, then buy the books if you can afford it, or request copies in your library if you cannot.
Share your list with your book club, or found a book club that exclusively focuses on women and non-binary writers.
Because it’s even more celebratory to hear the words of women and non-binary writers spoken aloud, you could attend events and readings in your area. (Hint: Growing Room: A Feminist Literary Festival is on this weekend if you’re in the Vancouver, Canada area.)
And, last but not least, encourage emerging women and non-binary writers by reading, sharing and commenting on what they publish in online lit mags.
2) Review women and non-binary writers
Women’s writing gets less ink when it comes to reviews (see the VIDA and CWILA links above). The good news is, this is changing, and you can be part of the change by making reviewing women and non-binary writers’ books an element of your writing practice.
This is a profound celebration of their writing because you must absorb and aim to fully understand the work before you share your opinion. (Bonus: reading this way will teach you a lot about writing.)
You don’t need to review for a formal publication, though you may find you love reviewing and seek out a gig when you have a portfolio of reviews ready. Your blog is an excellent place to start. You could also go for short, snappy, sweet reviews on social media to encourage others to read works you love.
3) Listen to and believe women and non-binary writers
With the reckoning happening in other artistic communities, we can’t ignore the need for reckoning around abuse and gender inequality in our own industry—from the shady mentor who dates his students to a sea of lost opportunities based on unconscious biases against our writing (domestic, confessional, too much).
Believing starts with listening. And I’ll start by directing this specifically at white women because we need to listen to women of colour about their experiences. It’s also important that straight women listen to queer women on this.
Then we need to follow up our listening with belief in the form of supportive action: speaking up, having uncomfortable conversations with literary gatekeepers, and making decisions to put our energy and money into efforts that genuinely support all women and non-binary writers.
4) Mentor women and non-binary writers
We need more mentors who will unequivocally encourage emerging women and non-binary writers. (See above re: shady mentors.) You can do this no matter what stage you are at in your writing career by simply sharing all you’ve learned from your experience so far in writing and publishing.
This can be as formal as a talk in a classroom of aspiring young writers or as informal as reading the work of a friend-of-a-friend starting to try her hand at poetry.
5) Write the story you must tell
Women and non-binary writers, please bring us your too much, your domestic, your confessions, your rage. Or bring us your thoughts on string theory, contact sports, politics, cheese. Whatever you do, write the stories you have in you that haven’t been told.
In the words of Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
When you do, know it will give so many of us joy, visibility, and powerful change to read your words.
I hope you have a beautiful, celebratory, and revolutionary International Women’s Day, writers!
Author and literary magazine editor Rachel Thompson helps writers develop the skills and confidence to publish. You can find out more about her writing community, courses, and biweekly love letters to writers on RachelThompson.co.