The New Wave: Emerging Female Writers Push the Boundaries (Sydney Morning Herald)

From left, writers Cleo Wade, Intan Paramaditha, Sharlene Teo, Ashleigh Young, Eliza Robertson, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Emma Glass, Jenny Zhang and Sydney Writers’ Festival director Michaela McGuire. Photo: Louise Kennerley


Sydney Morning Herald, May 4, 2018

Melanie Kembrey

There are primary school best friends Lucy and Francine, who experiment sexually together, college student Peach, whose stomach is rapidly expanding, and copywriter Mara, who is haunted by memories of her first period while making an advertising campaign for sanitary pads.

They are the creations of emerging women writers whose provocative stories and styles are pushing the boundaries of what contemporary literature can be and do.

Ten international debut poetry and fiction writers will feature at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, eight of whom identify as women. This is double the number of debut writers from abroad who attended the event in 2017. Their work is diverse in style, character and plot, but they are united in their interest in female bodies, power, identity and resistance.

Much of their writing predates the election of US President Donald Trump, the Black Lives Matter movement and #MeToo. But they tap into an appetite for stories that unsettle the orthodoxy and offer a new perspective.

The festival’s artistic director, Michaela McGuire, said the high number of international debut female writers on the program – including Zinzi Clemmons​, Carmen Maria Machado, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Sharlene Teo – was not the result of a deliberate strategy, but “just the very pleasant realisation that many of the best books I read in the past year were outstanding debut novels by female authors”.

“Stylistically, they’re all incredibly daring, but in very different ways. There’s such confidence to these works, too, especially in their unique and compelling explorations of women’s bodies.”

More broadly, 53 per cent of the authors and moderators at the festival this year are women, and there is an impressive line-up of emerging non-fiction writers including Ashleigh Young.

Bloomsbury published three of the debut female fiction writers attending the festival – Jenny Zhang’s short story collection Sour Heart, Emma Glass’ novella/prose poem Peach and Eliza Robertson’s novel Demi-Gods.

Editor-in-chief Alexandra Pringle said there was a “new explicitness and daring, a wonderful boldness” in the writing now being published. She said recent political developments and activism had changed what was being sent to literary editors and there was now a “greater diversity than we’ve ever seen before” in writing from different backgrounds, countries and cultures.

Intan Paramaditha​’s English-language debut collection, Apple and Knife, consists of short stories published in bahasa Indonesia in 2005 and 2010. They are set in Indonesia, bend and blend genres, and bristle with feminist rage and resistance.

“I wanted to write stories about women in Indonesia and I just thought it was important to tell stories about bad women, about disobedient women, about women who resist,” Paramaditha, who is an academic at Macquarie University, said.

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