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Tuesday 22 February 2011

We recently ran a piece that mentioned, among other things, the under-representation of women in literary journals. The imbalance is replicated in other areas of public life. Popular comic and public speaker Catherine Deveny has announced an initiative intended to reverse the trend. Dubbed ‘No chicks, no excuses – expert women for every event’, it’s “the brainchild of Leslie Cannold, Jane Caro and Catherine Deveny, three women in public life who got tired of event organisers saying they couldn’t find good women speakers.” Deveny’s website claims the inspiration for the initiative lies in a column she wrote on corporate exclusion of women at public events.

While we’re on the subject of feminism, we thought the Gender Genie might be of interest. It’s a website that invites users to paste 500 words or more of their prose into a field that then scans it and assesses whether the writing is ‘male’ or ‘female’. We’re not suggesting that there is such a thing as ‘male’ writing or ‘female’ writing, but the website is the result of an article on the subject, as well as a ‘sexed text test’ (try saying that 10 times in a row) originally published in the New York Times.

Leslie Cannold, author, commentator, ethicist, researcher and social activist, will present a Lunchbox/Soapbox on April 7 on the topic, ‘The Problem with Feminists’.

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22 February 2011

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“Brooklyn is repulsive with novelists, it’s cancerous with novelists.” So opined acclaimed novelist Jonathan Lethem in a profile in the LA Times this weekend. The comment has raised eyebrows – in Brooklyn and further afield – because few writers of recent vintage have been more closely associated with the city. Partly because of his disillusionment with Brooklyn, Lethem moved to southern California last year to take up a prestigious teaching post left vacant after the suicide of David Foster Wallace.

There are no doubt a bunch of reasons why places such as Brooklyn attract communities – or dare we say colonies – of artists, musicians and writers. In The World Republic of Letters, literary sociologist Pascale Casanova suggested the reason why Paris had been so disproportionately influential in the history of modern letters was that it was a net exporter of cultural capital. She argues that it was the imprimatur of a Parisian publishing house that enabled writers like Joyce and Beckett to establish their international credentials. No doubt it’s the success of writers like Lethem (not to mention a host of his contemporaries) that draw other aspiring writers to Brooklyn.

The story has us thinking of Australia’s literary enclaves – Brunswick and Newtown in Melbourne and Sydney respectively, and to a lesser extent towns like Castlemaine and Byron Bay. What do you think? Is living in a literary enclave good for good writing or not? Leave a comment and give us your two cents.

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22 February 2011

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A banner that reads ‘Leave!’ during protests in Tahrir Square last month in Cairo. Image via WikiCommons

While the ripples of a 24-year-old Tunisian grocer’s self-immolation continue to extend across the Middle East, we were reminded of the role that poetry played – in sung and spoken form – in the Egyptian crisis. There’s been some excellent coverage on the topic, such as here, here, here and here. Of course, protest poetry and song are not exclusive to the Middle East – here’s a piece on the role song played during the Freedom Rides.

Readers familiar with the Middle East may have noticed how passionate many in the region tend to be about their verse. The Quran is prized for its poetic qualities, and many of the languages of the region have rich literary traditions – not least among them Arabic and Persian. It is not uncommon for someone to be able to recite a host of poems from memory, and conversation is frequently peppered with poetic allusions. In Abu Dhabi, there’s even a television show based on the ‘American Idol’ format called ‘The Prince of Poets’. Rather than singing or dancing, contestants write and recite poems.

Thursday’s Talking Point at the Wheeler Centre will be on the topic, ‘Egypt and Beyond’.

Update: here’s a link to an article on the invisibility of Arabic literature – “Given the importance of the Arabic language in the world (320 million estimated speakers), the fact that this literature is still considered as marginal is unsettling. International publishers may be curious about this literature, but they rarely go as far as acquiring rights. This makes you wonder whether it is the quality of the Arabic literature that is at stake, or if there are external reasons to its marginalization.”

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