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Review of the CWWA’s 10th Anniversary Conference: ‘Legacies and Lifespans’


By Jessica DayScreen-Shot-2015-07-07-at-18_55_56

On Saturday, 17th October 2015, the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association welcomed an international audience of academics, writers, and postgraduate students to the University of Brighton to celebrate their 10th anniversary conference aptly named ‘Legacies and Lifespans.’ Whilst considering this thought-provoking theme in relation to contemporary women’s writing, the delegates explored the evolving spirit and concerns of women writers from the 1960’s and 70’s onwards through a range of interesting topics, genres, and theoretical analyses. Featuring not only three keynotes from leading scholars Professor Mary Eagleton, Professor Lucie Armitt and Patricia Duncker, but also the launch of The History of British Women’s Writing, 1970-Present (2015) and seven panel sessions, the diversity and insightfulness of the conference was truly beyond measure – and, so too were the stimulating discussions which were generated. Now, with the impossible task of capturing the full breadth of activity that the conference emanated, I will focus this review on the keynotes and overall sentiment that the conference inspired.

For those eager delegates that were able to arrive a day previous on Friday, 16th October 2015, this is when the initial considerations of the legacies and continuities of contemporary women’s writing began. Having received a warm welcome and opportunity for delegates to acquaint themselves with one another, Professor Mary Eagleton proceeded to introduce the conference with her paper ‘Chance and Choice: the Literature of Women’s Upward Mobility.’ Whilst analysing the implications of using the terms ‘chance’ and ‘choice’ in relation to the mobility of the ‘Scholarship Girl’ (a term formulated by Eagleton in order to accommodate for Richard Hoggart’s lack of attention to the ‘Scholarship Boy’s’ counter-part) Eagleton examined the transition of women in higher education since the 1950’s. It soon became apparent that, for women, the neoliberal ethic of the “self-made effect” relied upon a sociology of gambling, as well as upon the notions of choice, hope and serendipity, more than it did on the prospect of choice. Eagleton’s historical account of women’s upward mobility continued until the focus became the situation of mobility in today’s society, and concluded by drawing on Lauren Berlant’s notions of ‘cruel optimism’ and ‘depressive realism.’ Which, considering that much work from the weekend focused on writing in an age of crisis, were certainly themes that lingered in the minds of delegates the next day.

At first glance, the agenda for Saturday’s programme looked not only impressive but also rather fast-paced. So, following a relaxed introductory tea and coffee session, the energetic and animated tone with which the programme demanded of the day was quickly realised. Yet, this lively momentum in no form took away from the dazzling success of the conference, as instead it only matched the passion for the subject matter at hand and led to a continuous flow of spirited discussions to fill the day until the very end.

Patricia Duncker was the first keynote speaker to initiate this vigour, as her enthusiasm for contemporary women’s writing was discussed from her position as both academic scholar and novelist in her paper ‘Historical Figures and Fictional Lives.’ In reflection of her own fiction, particularly her recent novel Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance (2015), Duncker examined the traditions, rules and customs of creating historical fiction. To example but a few of the many areas that Duncker addressed, the main thinking at the heart of her paper stimulated from a critical examination of the implications and possibilities of “playing” with historical time; the dichotomy between what is myth and historical fact; as well the role of paratexts in historical fiction. Duncker interlaced this critical insight of the genre by looking at the self-imposed limits of fiction from her perspective as a writer, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the broader traditions and situation of women’s writing in the last few decades.

Having received such an engaging introductory paper, the delegates then began to disperse to the various panel sessions that took place for the majority of the morning and early afternoon. With panel sessions focusing on topics such as ‘Legacies and Dis/continuities’ or ‘Popular Fictions and Cultures’ right through to ‘Social Institutions and Feminist Strategies’ it was apparent that there were few aspects of contemporary women’s writing not accounted for and discussed. As for the panels that I attended, there was certainly an identifiable echo amongst the papers in that most not only engaged with how the legacy of contemporary women’s writing had developed in the last forty years, but, more predominantly and specifically, questioned what may define contemporary women’s writing in the future.

Following on from these seven panel sessions, as well as an exceptionally poignant presentation by Jane Anger (one of the co-founders of Silver Moon Bookshop) on Women’s publishing, Professor Lucie Armitt was the final keynote and speaker of the day. Despite being proceeded by such a varied array of work, Armitt’s keynote on ‘Unspeakable Seas: Flooding, Climate Change and Kate Mosse’s The Taxidermist’s Daughter’ could not have produced a more fitting manner with which to conclude the overall sentiment of the conference. The true interdisciplinary manner of Armitt’s paper accentuated to what degree contemporary women’s writing is produced from and should be assessed through an innovative, experimental, and speculative lens. Her paper pushed the analysis of contemporary women’s writing into new territory, almost literally, by examining the encroachment of the sea upon the British coastline as an area for twenty-first century Gothic Literacy exploration. Thus, not only did the audience leave questioning ‘the role that twenty-first century literature might play in helping us negotiate our shared cultural anxieties about encroaching seascapes’ from a geographical and literary point of view, it emphasised the imaginative and innovative essence of contemporary women’s writing itself.

It is in the process of writing this report and in reflection of the conference’s success that I wish to say a huge thanks to the CWWA for organising such an insightful, diverse and beneficial event- especially, from my perspective as a PhD student in the early stages of their research- thank you.


Contemporary Women’s Writing and Literary Prizes: Conference Report


Contemporary Women’s Writing and Literary Prize Culture

 24th June, Leeds Metropolitan University

This free one day event was organised and run by the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association, and focussed on the impact of the literary prize culture on the style and, perhaps more importantly, the availability of contemporary women’s writing. It was well attended by a diverse range of delegates. PGRs, academics, and writers were addressed on a varied range of topics presented by academics, an author and a commercial publisher and this cross-industry approach to the advantages and disadvantages of literary prize culture resulted in some interesting discussion, idea generation and even disagreements. There were five speakers at this event, all of whom had been invited to speak by the CWWA in recognition of their unique expertise with regard to the main topic of the day.

Delegates received a warm welcome upon arrival at the Northern Terrace site, and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The absence of pre-presentation nerves among most of those in attendance added to the convivial feeling of the event, and this fed into some interesting conversation following on from some excellent and informative (and even interactive) papers.

Much of the day’s discussion focussed on the way in which market pressures skew the market in favour of books that publishers know they can sell. It seems that one of the biggest impacts as a result of literary prize culture has been the reduction in the availability of titles and the increasing commercialisation of fiction. This inevitably leads to a decline in literary fiction, and the general consensus of the day was that even those literary titles which do get through risk disappearing without trace if they cannot win, or at least get shortlisted, for one of those elusive prizes. In their paper Dr Helen Cousins and Dr Jenni Ramone discussed the antipathy of some readers to these prize winning books, they also referred to figures which show a shortlisted title can increase its sales figures by hundreds of thousands of copies. This trend of readers and publishers is of particular concern for women’s writing as all the speakers acknowledged the markedly lower numbers of female authored books which make it on to these lists (with the exception of the Orange Prize). The papers delivered in the morning sessions were complemented by the highlight of the day: Jane Rogers reading her own work and discussing this with Dr Susan Watkins, chair of the CWWA.

jessie lamb Jane Rogers has written eight books and a collection of short stories, for which she received nominations and awards from various literary prizes, most recently for her novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb. She read a tantalising section of this work, as well as one her short stories ‘Morphogenesis’, form her collection Hitting Trees with Sticks’.  In discussion with Susan Watkins, Jane talked about how Jessie Lamb nearly sank without trace before being ‘rescued’ from obscurity by literary prizes.  Showing a different side to literary prize culture, she discussed the way winning a prize can extend books life and readership, a note in contrast to earlier discussions which suggested books then become part of the hype of the moment, to be forgotten as soon as a new shortlist is announced. Jane acknowledged this complicated effect, particularly highlighting the literary prize culture’s feeding of the high street bookshops fixation on famous names, which further limits the availability of titles. This fascinating interview was concluded with the less positive notion of the artificial lines that literary prize culture creates within the market that has forced the necessity of women only prizes, such as the Orange prize, and with the hope that one day we will just be able to talk about literature, without reference to the gender of the author.

Adele Cook

University of Bedfordshire

Skills Development Programme for Contemporary Women’s Writing PGs and ECRs

At PGCWWN’s conferences, training workshops led by experts in the field (such as Dr Helen Davies’s workshop at The F Word) are well attended and well received. In response to a perceived skills gap between academic research in contemporary women’s writing and an increasingly competitive employment market, the CWWSkills programme has been created. This is programme is tailor made and supported by the AHRC, the CWWA and a number of HE institutions.

The programme comprises 6 training workshops held at different locations in the UK between 31st August, 2013 and 12th July 2014. The workshops will cover publishing, social media and digital technologies, communicating within and beyond the classroom, careers and employability and creating new audiences for contemporary women’s writing.

The CWWSkills programme is free of charge and reasonable travel and accommodation expenses will be reimbursed. Please note that places are limited and the application process is selective, based on the quality of the content you input onto the form. The window for receipt of applications closes on 21 June 2013. Applicants will be informed of the outcome of their application in early July 2013.

Find out more at cwwskills.org.uk


Conference Report: ‘(Wo)man and the Body’, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan

Renata Dalmaso, a PhD student from Brasil, won the PG CWWN/CWWA postgraduate bursary competition to attend the CWWA conference ‘Contemporary Women’s Writing: (Wo)man and the Body’ at the National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan.


The Fourth Biennial International Conference of the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association was, for the first time, held on the Asian continent, and, more specifically, in Taiwan in July. Delegates from all parts of the globe received a very warm welcome (literally, as temperatures were soaring in Taipei at the time) and got a chance to interact, discuss, and exchange ideas about the conference main theme: (Wo)Man and the Body. For three consecutive days the delegates — a very mixed group comprised of senior, early career, and postgraduate academics—followed a tight and impeccable schedule that accommodated several feature talks and addresses, as well as three concurrent panels.


The wide range of topics and perspectives was reflected in the selection of featured speakers. The conference opened with a keynote address by Professor Clare Hanson, focusing on new narratives of inheritance that interrogate the model of genetic reproduction and go beyond the gene. Writer addresses by Florence Howe, Linda Hogan, Shirley Lim, and Weichen Su added another layer to the discussions by presenting a perspective more closely associated with the production of literature itself, along with its implications such as publication, demand, choice of genre, audience, and style. Susan Friedman and Susan Watkins contributed to the debate raising questions about the body and embodiment in terms of memory, amnesia, and transcorporeality within specific works.

The fact that the conference was held for the first time in Asia worked out in two different ways. It allowed for a large number of Asian scholars and academics to participate in an event that due to costs and scheduling conflicts would have been much smaller if it happened at the other side of the globe. They comprised about a little over half of all the delegates. And second, it provided a new insight into the kind of research being undertaken there and the fascinating literature being produced that does not always cross the continents.

During the event we were lucky enough to attend a traditional Chinese dinner, one of the many treats provided by the organizing committee. Between estrangement and delight we were able to get a taste of another culture and learn a little bit about its histories and traditions. After the conference, a group of the delegates was even able to go on a full-day tour of Taipei, also arranged by the organizing committee, which worked as a great send off to this wonderful conference. On a more personal note, I felt particularly privileged to be able to attend this event in the capacity of a postgraduate bursary winner. To be able to combine academic work and cultural exchange in this way was something specially fortunate.

Renata Dalmaso, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, Brasil.

Announcement of Postgraduate and Early Career Bursaries

The Contemporary Women’s Writing Association and the Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network are delighted to announce a competition for two bursaries of £500 to give a paper at the Fourth Biennial International Conference of the CWWA, ‘(Wo)Man and the Body’ at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan on 11-13th July 2012.

The bursaries are funded jointly by the CWWA and PGCWWN and will be awarded to one postgraduate student and one early career researcher (not in full-time employment). Applicants are required to be a member of the CWWA and are requested to submit the following information by 30th December 2011:

• An extended abstract of the proposed paper (1000 words)
• A personal statement detailing applicant’s relevant experience and research interests and the reasons for conference attendance (500 words)
• An up-to-date C.V.

The competition will be judged by the Executive Committee of the CWWA and the Steering Group of the PGCWWN. The outcome of the competition will be announced by 30th January 2012. The successful candidate for the postgraduate bursaries will be expected to produce a conference report for the PGCWWN website/newsletter.

Applications and/or further enquiries should be submitted via email to Dr Susan Watkins (S.Watkins@leedsmet.ac.uk) and Dr Helen Davies (H.C.Davies@leedsmet.ac.uk).