Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Going High - texts by inspirational women

Remember our Going High event  on International Women’s Day this year? We collaborated with Chalk Circle Theatre Company to busk in Norwich’s city centre, using words and not music. The words were from texts by inspirational women. We’ve had a number of requests for the names of the texts and the authors, so here they are with links:

Audre Lord -  The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House -
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA:  pub Crossing Press.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes -  Extracts from Women Who Run With The Wolves, pub Rider; Classic Ed edition (7 Feb. 2008)

Michelle Obama – Extracts from her speech to the National Democratic Convention 2016

Monday, 3 April 2017

Melissa Fu on winning the 2016 regional prize of the Words And Women’s prose competition

Melissa Fu
‘I am delighted to have won Words And Women’s 2016 Regional Prize with my piece of creative non-fiction, Suite for my Father. The Words And Women prose competition is especially dear to me because I saw a flyer in 2013 at a local bookstore for the inaugural competition and it felt so encouraging and welcoming that I decided to send in some writing.

Entering that first competition meant learning about Words And Women and their important work. It was on their blog too that I came across a post written by Leigh Chambers about the Angles writing group she’d started in Cambridge. I got in contact with Leigh and eventually joined the group. Angles has been an invaluable source of friendship and community for me. I have Words and Women to thank for connecting me to these amazing writers!

I was a highly-commended writer for Words and Women: One and that was my first writing success ever. It was such a boost to have come so close to being included in the anthology! I loved the ethos of the competition and entered again the next year. My first writing publication is a piece in Words and Women: Two.

Because Words And Women has been an integral part of my finding a place as a writer, I wanted to send them my very best work. Last fall, I sent them a story that is deeply meaningful to me as well as one in which I had carefully considered every word. Of all the pieces I have written over the past few years, this is the one of which I am the most proud. It was an absolute thrill to have it honoured as the 2016 regional winner.

As part of the prize, I had a session with Jill Dawson, best-selling novelist and founder of the Gold Dust mentoring scheme. Before the session, I sent Jill a longer piece and an overview for a book-length project. Jill’s feedback was fantastic! It was clear to me that she had read my work not only with a keen eye for structural and narrative possibilities, but also with a generous respect for the soul of the story I want to tell. What I found especially helpful was that she would pair a general suggestion about my writing with specific areas in the piece she had read, showing me where I might put her guidance to use right away. I could then take these ideas and apply them to other pieces of writing. Jill offered just the kind of perspective and boost I needed to give me the confidence to embark on my larger project. And, we met in a great teashop in Ely that was new to me - always a bonus!

Thank you Jill Dawson and thank you Words And Women!

Melissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and lives in Cambridge. Her work appears in Words and Women:Two, Words and Women: Four, Bare Fiction, Envoi, Right Hand Pointing, and other publications. With backgrounds in physics and English, she spent many years working in education, both as a teacher and a consultant. In 2014 Melissa combined her loves of writing and teaching to start Spilling the Ink, a small business offering creative writing courses and coaching. 

Her winning story Suite for my Father can be found in Words and Women: Four, available from Unthank Books

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Censoring Feminism, Writing Resistance

Demonstrators in NYC showed their support for Feminist Voices © Jun Chen
On 20th February 2017, the main social media account of a prominent Chinese women’s organisation, Feminist Voices, was shut down for 30 days. The group had publicly shared their support for the women’s strikes in the USA planned for March 8th, by posting a link on their Weibo* page. They were not calling for Chinese women to strike, they were simply showing their support for anti-Trump demonstrations occurring elsewhere.

Feminist activist Li Maizi, who spoke in London on 7th March © Li Maizi 
But China strictly prohibits political resistance and public demonstration of any kind. They received a message stating, ‘Hello, because content you recently posted violates national laws and regulations, your account will be banned for 30 days’. This prompted waves of support from women the world over, with images pouring in from overseas Chinese women who attended demonstrations, but nothing has changed the fate of Feminist Voices’ public platform.

Hearing this news, I checked on my own web presence. A piece I wrote for a major Chinese media platform had vanished with no explanation. Just days after its publication on 13th February, the link my editor had sent, and that I’d shared with family and friends, stopped working.

I had interviewed a wonderful woman writer whose recently released debut novel deals with themes of migration, class, and gender inequality through the lens of sex workers in Shenzhen, southern China. I was not aware that the content of our interview might be regarded as even remotely incendiary.  I’d struggled over edits and pitched numerous publications. In the end, all that hard work got me was a blank screen and 404 error message.

Recently, I volunteered to help organise a public celebration of women to be held just days after International Women’s Day. We lined up novelists, poets, storytellers, actors, comedians, and activists who wanted stage time. We found a handful of organisations to provide free information. We decided to fundraise for an NGO supporting transgender teens in southern China. We arranged sponsors, a venue, and a poster. We invited guests.

Just six days before the event was due to take place, we got a message from an LGBT rights activist and founder of Beijing’s LGBT Center, who was due to take part in the panel discussion. Her lawyers had been contacted by police, and recommended we use caution, if we chose to proceed at all.

Her last attempt at speaking at an IWD event was met with suspicion, too. She got phone calls from the authorities telling her not to go to the 2016 Beijing Literary Festival event she was billed for. When she showed up, she was threatened by police at the door and decided not to risk arrest. A year earlier, five young feminist activists were detained for five-weeks without being sentenced, because they’d planned to hand out fliers about domestic violence on public transport.

She and other Chinese participants had the ovaries to forge ahead, hoping to ensure the event would happen if they could. They are well versed in the consequences of addressing sensitive issues in public. But as a bunch of foreigners, we couldn’t be sure of the repercussions for ourselves, our guests, or the cause we believed we were supporting. Ultimately, we had little choice but to cancel, while hoping that bowing out now provides us space to come back stronger another day.

The scariest thing about censorship is that it’s so covert. There is no reason given, no apparent logic behind censorship (only a vague sense of clamping down ahead of political events, such as the ‘Two Sessions’ annual congress in March). Feminist Voices were told they’d broken Chinese law, but not told how. My article had disappeared without a trace, the editor promising to ‘look into it’ before going silent. The authorities had not explicitly told us to cancel the event, we’d not been contacted directly (we didn’t event know which of the vast array of ‘authorities’ we should appeal to). The vague threat that we’d been ‘found out’ was enough to scare us into compliance.

The difference between the cancellation of our one-time event, or the disappearance of my one-time article, and the plight Feminist Voices represents for feminism across China, is obduracy. The majority of that handful of foreign women dabbling in women’s rights activism will leave China, sooner or later. They have the choice to leave censorship behind them. Chinese Feminists, in and outside China, however, will continue to face persecution for their beliefs and risk fates far worse than censorship if they push the envelope too far. Their futures can only lead towards assessing their role in the battle for gender equality against their personal safety.

* Chinese state-owned microblog platform akin to Twitter, which is blocked in China

Read on




The author is from Norwich, UK and is currently based in Beijing, China, where she teaches English Literature at a state university, and writes about gender and culture in contemporary Asia. Her writing has featured in various media outlets in China and the UK. Read more at

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Days 5 & 6 of our celebrations

Our week of celebrations ended with a noon-day reading by Kate Cox of extracts from some of the highly-commended entries to our prose competition, the completion of Clare Jarrett's response to Deborah Arnander's winning story The Wife and her noon-day talk about creating her installation, and our launch in Nunns Yard Gallery of our newest anthology Words And Women: Four. Here are a few photos from these events. We will put more up over time - today we are having a rest! - but in the meantime would like to thank our collaborators Print To The People, Clare Jarrett and Chalk Circle Theatre Company,  everybody who took part in the celebrations, who gave up their time and their considerable skills, and everybody who came along to see the art, hear the readings and watch the performances. Thank you!
Deborah Arnander
Clare Jarrett - installation

Clare Jarrett - installation

Kate Cox

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Day 4 of our celebrations

Today Su Squire read The Wife, the national winning story from our prose competition,  in Nunns Yard Gallery. The artwork is by Jo Stafford from Print To The People and is in response to the story written by Deborah Arnander.
Sue Squire readings Deborah Arnander's The Wife
Tomorrow at noon in the gallery Kate Cox will read three extracts from highly-commended works included in our anthology Words And Women: Four. The extracts include the start of a non-fiction piece Dear Shadow by Kate Feld, the beginning of a short story called  Sorry Business by Lilie Ferrari, and another called Private Parts by Cherise Saywell. For more details see our dedicated blog page IWD 17.
Clare Jarrett's work in 13A

Clare Jarrett & Deborah Arnander

Today has also been Day 4 of Clare Jarrett's residency in 13A which is just down the road from Nunns Yard Gallery. She too is working in response to The Wife and was paid a surprise visit by the story's author Deborah Arnander who dropped in to see her work.