Feminist Book Fortnight launches this summer

Feminist Book Fortnight launches this summer

Over 25 radical and independent bookshops are taking part in a two-week long celebration of feminist books in a bid to add to the debate about diversity in publishing and showcase books by women writers.

Taking place from 16th to 30th June and spearheaded by Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, Feminist Book Fortnight (FBF) will see retailers highlighting the diversity of feminist books through displays and events.

So far, 27 bookshops are participating in the campaign, including Lighthouse in Edinburgh, Warwick Books in Warwick, The Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry, Drake The Bookshop in Stockton-on-Tees, along with London bookshops Gay’s The Word, New Beacon Books, The Big Green Bookshop and Housmans.

Five Leaves Bookshop's Jane Anger said that plans to put together the fortnight-long campaign stemmed from the frustration booksellers felt about the lack of diversity in publishing, which she said had not advanced for decades.

"[We felt] we were having to revisit the same issues some of us campaigned about in the 1980s", said Anger. "The 2016 VIDA statistics showed the continuing bias in reviews; the fact that women writers were finding they were published/reviewed more often if they had a male protagonist; the absolute lack of diversity in children's books."

The aim of the campaign was to "make an intervention into the debate about diversity in publishing and, significantly, to make that intervention from outside London." She added: "This led us in to conversations about initiating a trade promotion this year in order to help ensure that the debate continues.  Diversity issues have had a habit of becoming flavour of the month and then sliding off the agenda."

The campaign will see each shop organise its own events and promote titles of its own choosing. Publishers are encouraged to contact participating bookshops about holding author events and discussions. Five Leaves Bookshop will provide generic posters to each shop and has created a dedicated website and Facebook page for the campaign.

Among the non-fiction titles to be featured in the promotion are Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Bloomsbury), Women and Power by Mary Beard (Profile), Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde (Penguin and Silver Press books), The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz (Saqi Books), We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (4th Estate), Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (Granta), and Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch (Cape).

Vanessa La Rose of New Beacon Books in London said that she wanted to “highlight some of the fantastic women of colour that the mainstream tend to forget" through her participation in the campaign.

She said: “There has been an overwhelming flow of books around female heroes of late, however, the contributions of black women in particular don't get the spotlight they much deserve. We plan on using the fortnight to celebrate black feminists old and new. Hopefully our involvement will mean that audiences old and new will be introduced to new black female heroes that challenge the status quo.”

Cristina Rios (left), co-manager at radical bookshop Housmans, said: "The left and radical circles are often quite male-dominated and can be daunting, especially for young women approaching radical politics for the first time. We are determined to bring more women into the shop and to encourage them to participate in the discussions and debates, so we try to create an informal and welcoming environment as it's important for our customers to know the shop is a place where they can encounter like-minded people. Participating in FBF is a way to reinforce our commitment to this project."

Meanwhile, Mairi Oliver of the Lighthouse bookshop in Edinburgh said she hoped the campaign would help the shop secure some big name authors to boost its profile during a "quiet time" in the bookselling calendar.

"We're already known as a feminist bookshop, but this gives us an opportunity to really shout about intersectional feminism and social justice, and being part of the FBF might help us reach new readers and an audience from further afield", said Oliver. "Feminism faces some major challenges at the moment, as a bookshop we champion a proactive, inclusive feminism and the FBF offers us an opportunity to showcase writers and voices which chime with our mission, as well as the chance to make new converts and challenge outdated or exclusive forms of feminism, as well as the commercialisation of feminism", she said.

The Drake Bookshop in Stockton-on-Tees will also dedicate space in its shop to showcase women writers through out the whole year, and will be holding a poetry reading and open mic event with Tees Women Poets during the fortnight.

Melanie Greenwood, co-owner of the shop, said: "This is where indie bookshops excel - we can do something local within our own community and link to a wider voice while championing awesome women writers to our customers, including some fantastic local women writers and poets- what's not to like?

“People often say that women are written out of history. I think that this is because women are written out of the every day. If women's books are made more visible through this kind of celebration, hopefully that will translate through to being more visible every day, on every shelf.”

Fiction authors featured in the campaign at some of the shops will include Ali Smith, Kit de Waal, Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin, and Alicia Kopf, while childrens' books featured will be Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood (Chronicle), Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones and Sara Ogilvie (Simon and Schuster), Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole and The Priness Arabella series from Cassava Republic.

The campaign launches at a time when the discrepancy in pay between men and women has been highlighted by the release of gender pay gap data from several of the biggest companies in the industry. The overall trend which emerged from the data was that despite women forming the majority of the workforce in companies across the sector, it was men who dominated the most senior positions and attracted the highest pay and bonuses.