I never feel more motivated to read and write than after attending a literary or author event. On the evening before the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced, I attended an event at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, celebrating women as both writers and readers.
Kate Mosse, novelist, playwright, co-founder and honorary director of the Bailey’s prize chaired a panel made up of author and Professor of Creative Writing Aminatta Forna, newly published author Katie Khan, writer, poet, television presenter June Sarpong and editorial consultant, writer, and poet Aki Schilz. These four inspirational women were tasked with choosing two books by female writers that they love and have been particularly formative in their lives.
There was a diverse range of books chosen. Some, perhaps, predictable classics. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was chosen by Aki Shilz as a book that has been particularly instructive to her as a girl and woman. The theme of sisterhood is a theme which has been played out in her life and a theme she regularly returns to. In a slightly similar vein, June Sarpong named Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen as one of her books. Reading this as a young girl she was taught about a woman who was fulfilling a role which really wasn’t allowed at that time. Pride and Prejudice is a matriarchy posing as a patriarchy” was perhaps one of the quotes of the evening. P & P is certainly a book which has influenced me and probably taught me to love classic literature written by women.
June also named the less well known Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. A book I suspect many of the audience came away desperate to read. Katie Khan spoke with passion about her love for The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Katie read this at a time she was going through her own heartbreak and fell headlong into a book I also count as one of my favourites. This led to some interesting discussion about how certain books are right for you at certain times. It got me thinking about why I have loved particular books at particular times in my life and why it is that some books resonate more than others. More of that at another time perhaps…
Aminatta Forna, shared her complete love of Citizen, An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Aminatta did not come to this book until she was 5o but sites it as a book which has challenged her, affirmed her beliefs and hugely influenced her over the last 3 years. A book which is part poetry, part prose and part images and is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in an ostensibly “post-race” society. I suspect Aminatta could discuss any subject and make it sound fascinating but her visceral experience of reading this was particularly powerful and I immediately added it to my TBR list
This was a joyful, uplifting and inspirational evening. To be among creative women and women who love and appreciate the power of the written word is a powerful thing in itself.
Kate Mosse concluded the event by encouraging all the writers and would be writers in the audience, saying “Everyone has a voice, get it out there.” She also said the best thing you can do for writers is to read them. “Love a book and pass it on.” What great advice and what a great note to end on.
Which book has had a particular influence on you and what would you read and pass on?
Below is the full list of books chosen:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Women at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Bali Kaur Jaswal
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Darkest Rising by Susan Copper
Citizen, An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys