Writing While Female, Reading (Women) While Male

Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke - author of Foreign Soil, one of our staff favourite books of 2014 - started a lively Twitter conversation about the experience of being a woman writer when she launched the hashtag #writingwhilefemale.

Here, she explains why she started it, why the conversation is important - and how it grew into a valuable catalogue of experiences. (And launched a companion thread, #menreadingwomen.)

The #writingwhilefemale twitter thread was started to allow female-identifying Australian writers to collectively voice their concerns and frustrations: emerging writers or experienced professionals; full-time writers or working around other responsibilities; living inner-city or in regional areas.

The Stella Prize and the range of programs, discussions and initiatives that have been rolled out under the banner of this prize continue to significantly raise the profile of Australian women writers. Books such as Rachel Power’s The Divided Heart illuminate obstacles creative women can face. Initiatives such as The Australian Women’s Writing Challenge raise the profile of published writing by Australian women.

I was interested in highlighting the day-to-day struggles and inequities that come with being a woman writer, and the devastating manner in which sometimes seemingly small incidents or comments can accumulate into an avalanche.

I started tweeting on the #writingwhilefemale hashtag late on Friday, posting a picture of myself performing at Melbourne Writers Festival. (‘That time I did a 20 minute @swingingonline commission @MelbWritersFest at 8 ½ months pregnant? #writingwhilefemale’) and a few other bits and pieces. I let a couple hundred other Australian women writers know via an online network that I was going to start tweeting about my experiences, and tagging each relevant tweet #writingwhilefemale (in the tradition of hashtags such as #drivingwhileblack). I asked if they’d consider joining me to share their experiences.

Turns out we Australian women writers have some harrowing tales to tell.

The floodgates opened.

Tweets were favourited and forwarded on, and favourited again and forwarded on again.

The Vine had caught on, and ran a piece about #writingwhilefemale the next day.

A #menreadingwomen thread was started by Martin Shaw at Readings, to support #writingwhilefemale by encouraging more men to read, discuss and promote the work of published woman writers.

Publishers, writers, readers and booksellers have engaged with the threads, and there’s been interest in running some events and publications around #writingwhilefemale.

The hashtag was my baby for about an hour, then the village stepped in to help raise the child.


[View the story "#writingwhilefemale" on Storify] #menreadingwomen

[View the story "#menreadingwomen" on Storify]

Portrait of Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke is a widely published Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent. Maxine's short fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published in numerous publications including Overland, the AgeMeanjin, the Saturday Paper and the Big Issue. Her critically acclaimed short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the ABIA for Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2015 and the 2015 Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Matt Richell Award for New Writing at the 2015 ABIAs and the 2015 Stella Prize. She was also named as one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Novelists for 2015. 

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