The starting pistol for Feminist Book Fortnight sounded this weekend, with approaching 50 independent bookshops around the country taking part. Meanwhile, two mainstream publishers, Katy Loftus at Viking and Eleanor Dryden at Bonnier Publishing, have launched their own feminist book club.
Feminist Book Fortnight, running from Saturday (16th June) until 30th June, initially took place in 1983 but was resurrected by Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham this year, to mark the centenary of women in the UK getting the vote and also to confront enduring gender bias in publishing, the bookshop said. Over 45 indies are now involved, according to Five Leaves bookseller Jane Anger, who said: "It's great, it's really taken off."
On the eve of the fortnight, Five Leaves customers toasted the occassion with a glass of fizz in store (pictured), while Edinburgh's radical bookshop Lighthouse held a craft party, complete with readings, drinks, cake and banner-making ahead of Edinburgh Pride.
Housmans in London, meanwhile, offered a special discount on feminist titles across fiction and non-fiction and poetry, some of which were bought in specially for FBF.
Across the two weeks, Housmans will hold a roundtable between feminists and academics Ellie Jupp, Sara de Jong and Sanders-McDonagh, reflecting on how some forms of feminism have been complicit with perpetuating injustices and inequalities, a performance from the Raving Beauties theatre company of poetry selected from Hallelujah for 50ft Women, a poetry anthology that sings the praises of all women's bodies, and an evening in conversation with feminist thinker Lynne Segal.
British playwright, novelist and poet Deborah Levy and historian Hannah Dawson will be in conversation at Pages of Hackney bookshop on 26th June, with Levy exploring what it means to be "a woman in a world that is not geared to your advantage", while Dawson is currently editing The Feminists for Penguin Classics.
Drake the Bookshop in Stockton will further be hosting the poets of Teesside’s all-woman spoken word collective, The TWP, on 27th June. During the evening the poets will be sharing extracts from their favourite feminist writers and reply with their own poems.
Also celebrating feminism this week and beyond, a new feminist book club is launching at Waterstones, Tottenham Court Road (TCR).
Eleanor Dryden, publishing director of Women’s Fiction at Bonnier Zaffre, and Katy Loftus, editorial director at Viking, teamed up to create the Feminist Book Society. Billed as a “feminist book club with a difference”, the monthly event will be an active panel-led discussion on a “big theme”, where attendees “can meet people they’ve not met before and go away actively thinking about the ways they as individuals and as part of organisations can call out misogyny or do something differently that will help bring about change”.
Headlining its inaugural event at Waterstones TCR this Wednesday (20th June) is Caroline O’Donohue (Promising Young Women, Virago), Ayisha Malik (Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged, Twenty7) and Laura Bates (Everyday Sexism, S&S).
The £5 event is promised to be "about coming together, sharing ideas, having fun, meeting new people and championing the fight for equality through everything we’re thinking, reading and writing".
Dryden said the Feminist Book Society came about after her and Loftus went to a Women’s Equality Party BookClub, but came away feeling like they wanted something “more active”. They then connected with Rosie Beaumont Thomas at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road, who works on an inclusive, feminist and LGBTQ+ -led programme of events for the retailer, to find the “perfect venue”.
The format of the event will entail audience participation, asking members to write questions to be collected and put to authors after their panel discussion in a 20 minute Q&A. There will also be opportunities for networking.
Dryden said: “We talked about what our perfect feminist book event would feel like and then realised we had to set it up! We want to change the conversation and to harness the enormous power we have as readers, writers, book buyers, editors, agents, cover designers, publicists, marketeers, retailers – industry and non-industry alike – to debate and challenge and change how we tell stories about women, about feminism, about femininity and masculinity, about misogyny in all its forms (and also how we talk to and about women in this industry) – all for the better in the fight for equality. We think there has never been a more exciting and opportune time to engage with this than right now.”
“Feminism isn’t a ‘trend in publishing’ as some people have termed it. How are we reading, writing and publishing, right now, to keep driving forward to reach our goal of equality?” she continued.
“Hopefully it will be an inspiring and energising night. Vitally important – Katy and I both strongly believe that the frontline of feminism in books and publishing is as much at the commercial and mass market end of the spectrum as it is at the literary or polemic end. We’ll be inviting as many commercial authors as we will literary ones. Our panels will be diverse in make-up and we’ll work hard to reach out to diverse audiences too.”
Dryden and Loftus have said they are open to pitches from publishers, with themes for future events likely to include 'Heroes', 'Work', 'Parenthood', 'Having A Voice', 'Grief', 'Vaginas', 'Body Image', 'Courage', 'Action', 'Happiness' and 'Power'.
The next event after this week’s will be in September 2018, at the same venue, from which point the book club will be scheduled monthly. Further details on Feminist Book Fortnight can be found on the dedicated website while those interested in attending the inaugural Feminist Book Society should go to the Waterstones event page.