WOMEN IN LIT SPEAK UP AT NYU

1. Poet and panel moderator Cate Marvin started the VIDA movement with an email last year, which she titled: “As I Stood Folding Laundry: Women’s Writing Now,” (read it on VIDAweb.org) 2. VIDA’s first BOD: Ann Townsend, Kekla Magood, Cheryl Stayed, Barrie Jean Borich, Cate Marvin, Susan Steinberg, Erin Belieu, and Amy King

Friday afternoon, while Jonathan Safran Foer led a graduate workshop upstairs, the literary women of VIDA filled the first floor parlor of NYU’s Lillian Vernon House on West 10th Street. Over forty women listened to the eight VIDA board members, poets and memoirists and fiction writers and professors, toss around the big (often undiscussed) questions surrounding the female writer’s place in the house of modern letters, which often feels (or is, statistically speaking) dominated by straight white men. The VIDA panel included Ann Townsend, Kekla Magood, Cheryl Stayed, Barrie Jean Borich, Cate Marvin, Susan Steinberg, Erin Belieu, and Amy King. And, as a group, they make up VIDA’s first Board of Directors, meeting this weekend for their first annual meeting.

An inspiring bunch, the women spent the better part of two hours being incredibly honest about the challenges, even in 2010, of writing and publishing as a woman. Susan Steinberg, short story writer and University of San Francisco professor, spoke candidly about how women, herself included, often feel unsafe in a public reading, the fear of their work, even fiction, being heard as a confessional. How her female students worry in this vein much, much more than the men. Susan’s comments echoed Barrie Jean Borich, a memoirist-essayist from St. Paul. Referencing the a Francine Prose Harper’s article from a decade ago, titled”Scent of a Woman’s Ink,” Borich said, “Perhaps we simply haven’t learned how to read what a woman writes.”

The discussion was full, genuine, provoking, and, as these smart women intend, only just beginning through VIDA.

“We had VIDA buttons printed up,” co-founder Cate Marvin said. “They say SORRY.”

–Taylor Bruce is an MFA student at Brooklyn College and comes from Alabama.

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