As has been tradition for the last few years, Renay is kicking off this year’s Women in SF&F Month series! In addition to being an editor for the excellent Hugo-nominated site Lady Business, she also co-hosts the Fangirl Happy Hour podcast and writes for the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog. Renay also came up with the idea for the Favorite SF&F Books by Women Project that has grown each April since we first instituted it in 2013, and she has both a great discussion and the latest on that to share with us today!
A few years ago, I acquired a copy of How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ, which was an adventure. It was only available via print on demand, and for a slim paperback, it was $20. I had been hearing about it, though, so I forked over the cash and waited, and finally it arrived at my door, shiny and new and full of patterns I would recognize as well as some I would be introduced to for the first time.
How to Suppress Women’s Writing isn’t specifically about the science fiction and fantasy field, even though Russ wrote there and no doubt experienced massive amounts of microaggressions as well as outright aggression, too. She uses each section to drill down into the different ways women are prevented from publishing, or if they publish, the different ways they’re prevented from flourishing. It’s an eye-opening book that still applies across publishing even to this day. It can also be applied to creative endeavors in other fields, as well. It’s depressing that it’s still so relevant and that as relevant as it is, it’s also still very inaccessible. There’s no ebook, for example, and new copies are still expensive, prohibitively so, for some readers. The irony around this book being hard to get isn’t lost on me.
The book sat on my shelf for awhile after I finished it the first time. Then once, on my way to a book event, I pulled it down on a whim and took it with me. Suddenly I wanted every woman I met who wrote to sign my copy of this book. I wanted to fill the empty spaces between Russ’s words with the names of all the women who pushed back against the eleven ways she outlines that women were and are silenced, and the myriad of new ways culture keeps inventing to ensure women’s work is lost to history, not remembered, or remembered but derided.
I took the book with me to Worldcon in Kansas City in 2016 and asked women writers I knew to sign the book. The reactions were both gleeful with a touch of bitterness across the board, and a lot of people started writing their own little messages on the pages, expressing their own frustrations, some sad and some comedic. When I explained why I wanted them to sign it, they understood, even when my explanation was probably lackluster. Something about the act of putting their name in that specific book was immediately understandable.
What difference does it make if one copy of this book is filled with the signatures of women writers? It is, after all, just one copy, that belongs to me. But I grew up wanting a certain type of fiction that I couldn’t find, because the tactics Russ outlines in the book kept the books I would have loved hidden from me. So I missed out due to slim library budgets, rural life with bookstores already starting to slim down their pickings in genre, and shelves and shelves of men when they were available at all.
I picked up the book recently to flip through it, after I noticed that my favorite science fiction in the early and mid 2000s was largely by men. Plus, the books I had on the deck to read from that time period were also by men. I couldn’t figure out why science fiction by women from this time period was missing from my goals sheet, given the fact that I’m deliberately doing a space opera reading challenge for 2017. I have no clue why the previous decade has swallowed women writers writing science fiction whole in a way that makes it hard for new people to research and find them, but it’s a good example of the type of suppression that often plagues me, the New Kid. Books sink due to the constant churn of the 21st century publishing industry, women writers get dropped even as their more mediocre male counterparts are given more chances, and history is written, as they say, by the victors.
This is why I’ve been so grateful to Women in SFF Month. Each year it crops up and I get a chance to celebrate women writers I love and also think critically about my own reading, and whose voices I’m taking the time to listen to. It’s also a chance to crowdsource books by women writers so each year we add new writers and older writers who are being rediscovered as we search for our literary foremothers. It’s hard to keep women writers from getting left behind, but through this list, we hope we can capture as many as possible, in all their diversity and creativity, so they don’t get lost or forgotten.
Now, as in years before, we absolutely want your contributions for ten books you’ve read and loved by women writers in the last year. They can be old or new, standalone, or a part of a series. Help us build a resource so everyone, long time members of SFF fandom, as well as newcomers, can continue to find the women creating excellent and entertaining work.
(And if you get a chance, definitely read How to Suppress Women’s Writing. It’s life-changing.)