Thursday, May 31, 2018

How to Suppress Women's Writing, by Joanna Russ

University of Texas Press, April 2018 (original publication 1983)

Joanna Russ was a science fiction writer who came to prominence in the field in the 1960s, when women in the field were beginning to increase in numbers, but the explosion of women in science fiction of the 1970s was still in the future. She was also one of science fiction's home-grown scholars and critics, doing the work academics and more conventionally "respectable" literary critics were not yet ready to do.

In How to Suppress Women's Writing, she once again takes on work respectable academics and literary critics weren't willing to do: take a long, hard look at how and why women writers and artists, as well as other minority group writers and artists, keep disappearing from the record. Prominent in their own times, they quickly fade from view, leaving later generations to believe that only an exceptional few ever existed, or if they did exist, were inferior, forgettable talents. Emily Dickinson, for instance, is generally presented as springing from nothing, influenced by no predecessors or contemporaries, and influencing no women who came after her.

This is simply wrong. Emily Dickinson corresponded with other women writers, and other women writers and artists in every era had other women they knew, corresponded with, met, were aware of. They supported, influenced, competed with each other.

Often what they were doing appears thin, weak, or simply sui generis, because the literary tradition of which they are a part is invisible or forgotten. Or it's about women's experience, women's lives, women's perception of the world, which appear trivial and superficial in a literary tradition and a culture that centers white, male, heterosexual experiences and viewpoints.

This is a groundbreaking work, and yes, even thirty years later, you do want to read it. It will broaden and enrich your experience of literature, even as it alerts you to the ways in which women's creative work is still devalued.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.