I must have had some kind of psychic foreboding that 2012 was not going to be an easy reading year for me as I only signed up for one reading challenge rather than the half-dozen or more of recent years. But what I’ve lacked in quantity has been made up for in quality in that this year’s sole challenge, the Australian Women Writers Challenge, has both challenged and engaged me in a way that most of my previous reading challenges have not.
Born out of a frustration about the lack of coverage of books by women in the mainstream media, the challenge’s aim was to raise the profile of Australian women writers and their books in whatever media we could manage. As a participant then the challenge was not purely in reading at least 10 books by Australian women writers (I did that easily last year too) but to ensure that I reviewed them as intelligently as possible and that at least a couple of them were from outside my reading comfort zone. It’s not much of a stretch for me to pick up the latest crime novel by much-loved authors like Sulari Gentill but, especially in a year when I wasn’t reading as much as I normally would, it was much more difficult for me to try new crime writers or, heaven forbid, books that aren’t crime at all! Happily these forays into unfamiliar territories proved a positive experience for me. I even learned something from the one DNF ascribed to this challenge (I will post a formal wrap up of this year’s challenge in a few days…one last book to finish).
The engagement of this challenge was the real surprise though. Spurred on by its passionate creator, Elizabeth Lhuede, the challenge seems to have been everywhere that good books are being discussed:
- the twitter hashtag #aww2012 hit the ground running and has rarely been silent for long all year
- there are dozens of discussions going strong at the Good Reads home of the challenge
- last week a Facebook-based campaign to make it easier for Australian libraries to support the challenge and, in turn, Australian women writers took off
- Elizabeth is now the Huff Po correspondent for things relating to Australian women writers!
- Just today Overland declared 2012 The Year of Australian Women Writers thanks in part to the existence of this challenge and Elizabeth’s tireless efforts
- So far there have been nearly 1300 reviews written by challenge participants covering the gamut of genres and writing styles.
In short an entire community of people celebrating Australian women writers has been born. Woot as the kids would say (ok they probably wouldn’t actually say that but hopefully you get my point). You can even take a short survey about your awareness and consumption of literature by Australian women!
I think it’s wonderful news then that the challenge will be run again in 2013 and I’ll be curious to see what other elements evolve in the year that the first Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing is to be given. I suppose the first change is that next year Elizabeth will be getting some help to keep things ticking along. A swag of readers/writers/bloggers answered Elizabeth’s call to arms and we (yes yours truly will be curating reviews in the crime genre) have agreed to help with the myriad of small but necessary tasks such things demand (website and database maintenance, regular roundups of reviews posted in ‘our’ genres and so on).
I for one can’t wait to participate as both helper and reader next year and hope you’ll consider signing up too. You can get away with reading as few as four books if you like, though I’m aiming for at least 10 again. Even if you’re not going to take the challenge do check out this year’s reviews (the snazzy new database makes it really easy to browse them all now) and find an Australian woman writer or three to celebrate. You won’t regret it.