A Trenches Postscript and Still to Come…

Many thanks to everyone who turned out for our day in the trenches on Saturday! We were delighted to see you all at the talks, tours and workshops – and the sunshine! Huge thanks again to our speakers, Dr Hannah Tweed, Dr Alice Kelly, Anna Girling and to Dr Olivia Lelong with the amazing Digging In project. And on behalf of the whole Transatlantic Literary Women crew, we want to say a special, resounding transatlantic thank you to Marine, the TLW lead on Saturday’s event. Bravo Marine! Fantastic job!

We have three more events in the 2016-17 season of Transatlantic Literary Women and we hope you’ll join us:

There’s our final book club on Wednesday 26th April at 5.15 in 203, 4 University Gardens where the book under discussion is Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Come and discuss the adventures of Miss Lorelei Lee in a relaxed, informal, fun reading group over a glass of wine and snacks.

We’re very much looking forward to 23 May, when Dr Rachael Alexander (University of Strathclyde) will give a talk on Transatlantic Magazine Cultures (Tuesday 23 May in room 202, 4 University Gardens.) We hope you’ll join us for Rachael’s talk (refreshments available from 5; talk starts at 5.15). We’ve had a sneak preview of some of the magazine cover images Rachael will be showing from Vanity Fair and Vogue – they’re stunning! More information on the page of the event!

And, as our summer finale, we’re excited to be teaming up with the fabulous Glasgow Women’s Library for a day symposium on Saturday 3 June, with talks on Jazz Age women and advertising, Sylvia Plath, African American activists in Europe, Black Feminism across the Atlantic, a choice of workshops, and the chance to vote for your transatlantic literary woman. All this – AND a free lunch! What’s not to love? Take a look at the day’s line-up here, and find out more about the event and how to book here!

As ever, all events are free, open to all, and everyone is welcome. Please join us!

All best- Laura

February Book Club: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Americanah, 4th Estate Edition cover

We look forward to seeing you on Monday for our book club, where we’ll be discussing Adichie’s 2013 novel Americanah. Whether you’re a veteran of our launch, book club, and modernisms workshop, or if February’s book club will be the first time you’ve come to one of the events in the Transatlantic Literary Women Series, you’re very welcome! Look forward to seeing you there.

We’ll be meeting at 5.15 on Monday in the same venue as January’s book club – in room 203, on the first floor of 4 University Gardens. I know some of you will be coming straight from work (me too, after seminars on Zelda Fitzgerald and Alice James – incidentally, two other unheralded transatlantic literary women!), so we’ll provide refreshments and rustle up a few snacks. As always, we want the tone to be relaxed, informal, friendly – and fun.

The janitors do their rounds and lock the outside doors shortly after 5.15, so if you’re a bit late, don’t worry: ring the bell and we’ll come and let you in. We’ll also come down to the front door regularly in the first half hour to make sure no-one’s been left stranded.

You may have seen that votes have been cast for our third book club meeting on Monday 20 March and that the winner was Nella Larsen’s novel Passing. We’ve ordered copies from the campus bookstore. If they arrive by Monday, we’ll bring them with us to the book club to circulate (and bonus: the edition has BOTH of Larsen’s fabulous Harlem Renaissance novels – Passing and Quicksand.) If not, we’ll let everyone know when and how they can collect the free copies from the book shop. Either way, we’ll leave a few copies with the book shop for anyone unable to attend Monday’s club.

If you are unable to join us, or would like to share your impressions on Americanah, feel free to do so on the page of the event, on Twitter, or just contact us at transatlantic.women@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Look forward to seeing you soon. Happy reading!

All best- Laura

Ps: Today is the last day to send your submissions for our transatlantic student writing showcase! Please send submissions of no more than 1,500 words of prose or 3 poems (maximum reading time 5-7 minutes) to: info@scottishwriterscentre.org.uk, with Transatlantic Literary Women Series as the subject title. Please also include a brief bio.

Image: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20939933-americanah

Competition News

Thank you very much to everyone who entered our writing competition, linked to our first book club choice, Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (1913), narrating the exploits of a certain Undine Spragg. We really enjoyed reading your entries, which – in true transatlantic literary women style—were received from both sides of the Atlantic.

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James Tissot, The Political Lady (1883 – 1885)

We asked you to write a dating profile for Undine Spragg or create one of Mrs Heeny’s newspaper clippings, writing a journalistic report on one of Undine’s parties.

There was no shortage of ideas, but we do have a winner. Congratulations to Deborah Molloy from Kent, who gives us a contemporary twist on a dating profile as Undine opts for the direct, targeted approach. Forget about being the Ambassador’s Wife!

Here’s Deborah’s winning entry. Enjoy!

I Mean To Have The Best

Dear Mr President

I am taking the unusual step of placing this personal ad as I realise that a terrifically busy man like you might not have time for niceties. I am currently between husbands, and really feel we were made for each other.  I really, truly admire the way you always get what you want, power is the biggliest thrill, don’t you think?  My daddy was a Wall Street man and I feel we speak the same language – alternative facts are the way forward.  I have always felt I belonged on Fifth Avenue; why we’re practically neighbours!  So, if you decide you want a First Lady who’s the home-made article my mamma will be happy to receive you at the Stentorian Hotel, 1 W 72nd St. Perhaps we can talk about lifting restrictions on pigeon-blood rubies.

With warmest regards,

Ms Undine Spragg-Marvell-de Chelles-Moffatt.

Many thanks to Deborah! We will be in touch with you about your customized prize. For all those interested in attending our next book club, we will be discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. You can pick up a copy at our Transatlantic Modernisms Workshop on Wednesday 8th February, or just email us at transatlantic.women@gmail.com to ask how to get your free book! More information can be found on the page of the event here.

See you all on Wednesday!

Laura.

PS: Feeling inspired? You can still submit your entries for our Student Creative Writing showcase until February 14th! Send your submissions of no more than 1,500 words of prose or 3 poems (maximum reading time 5-7 minutes) to: info@scottishwriterscentre.org.uk, with Transatlantic Literary Women Series as the subject title.

February Book Club: Decision Time

We’re looking forward to seeing you for our first book club meeting on Monday 30 January at 5.15 in room 203, 4 University Gardens to discuss Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (1913). Please come and share your thoughts in a friendly, sociable group—and share a glass of wine or soft drink and nibbles. As always, everyone is welcome!

With such large numbers at our launch, we have booked an extra room in 4 University Gardens, so that we can have two groups if necessary and we will of course all join together at the beginning and the end for chat and refreshments. We’re looking forward to seeing you!

The TLW team chose the first text to kick things off, but future selections are all yours! So, now we need YOU to tell us which book we will all be reading for our second book club meeting, scheduled for Monday 20 February. Make sure your voice is heard! Thank you for the great feedback on the launch and the terrific book club suggestions for future meetings. We have taken three suggestions from the feedback forms for the shortlist for the Feb. book club. We will carry all suggestions forward, so if yours isn’t on the shortlist this time, it may well be on subsequent lists – and do please keep your suggestions coming via Twitter, Facebook or email.

Below are some information on February’s shortlist. How will this work? Louisa will be setting up Twitter and Facebook polls. If you’re not on Twitter you can email us instead: transatlantic.women@gmail.com. If you’re on none of those, then I am deeply envious and please just let us know in person.

So that we can make arrangements and order free copies of the book selected, we need you to cast your vote by Friday 27 January. We look forward to reading and discussing the book with the most votes!

Choice One: Nella Larsen, Quicksand

A writer of the Harlem Renaissance, Nella Larsen published just two novels, and a handful of short stories. Quicksand, written in 1928, is her first novel, introducing us to Helga Crane, a mixed race woman caught between fulfilling her desires and gaining respectability. Critically acclaimed, Larsen’s work speaks powerfully of the contradictions and restrictions experienced by black women. She has been described as a trailblazer in writing about the conflicts of sexuality, race and the secret suffering of women in the early twentieth century. Alice Walker calls Larsen’s work “Absolutely absorbing, fascinating and indispensable”:

“Somewhere, within her, in a deep recess, crouched discontent. She began to lose confidence in the fullness of her life, the glow began to fade from her conception of it. As the days multiplied, her need of something, something vaguely familiar, but which she could not put a name to and hold for definite examination, became almost intolerable. She went through moments of overwhelming anguish. She felt shut in, trapped.” Quicksand

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Nella Larsen (1891 – 1963)

Choice Two: Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz

Zelda Fitzgerald? Just the mad wife of the famous author of The Great Gatsby right? Wrong. A writer and painter in her own right, Zelda Fitzgerald published a single novel, Save Me the Waltz. When Scott Fitzgerald read a draft, he was incandescent, accusing his wife of plagiarising material from the novel on which he was working, Tender is the Night. Save Me the Waltz was extensively rewritten and published in 1932 to lukewarm reviews. Subsequently described as “one of the great literary curios of the twentieth century” and almost always read biographically as a portrait of the Fitzgeralds’ marriage, Save Me the Waltz is set in the United States and Europe and tells the story of Southern girl Alabama Beggs, her marriage to painter David Knight and her struggle to achieve her own artistic success:

“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”

“But I warn you, I am only really myself when I’m somebody else whom I have endowed with these wonderful qualities from my imagination.”

Choice Three: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

Americanah (2013) is the award winning best seller by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who lived on both sides of the Atlantic: in Nigeria and the USA. The novel traces the story of Ifemelu, a young woman who moves from military occupied Lagos to the USA to study at University. The novel deals with contemporary politics, including 9/11, but it is also a ‘timeless’ (Wiki) love story. According to the Guardian, ‘Some novels tell a great story and others make you change the way you look at the world. Americanah does both.’

Here’s a quote from the book to give you a flavour of this particular offering: ‘her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out’. Americanah also offers a useful tip for reading groups!

‘If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.’

If you’ve already picked your favorite, you can cast your vote via Twitter, on our Facebook page, or just send us an email!

Saskia

Transatlantic Catch-Up

Hello all!

I hope you’ve all had a good Christmas break, and have now made it back to university, or work, or whatever it is that keeps you busy these days. If you have been following the Transatlantic team on social media lately, you will have noticed that we have been quite busy ourselves, so here’s a short summary of what we have been up to, and of what you can expect from us.

The latest – and best-looking – addition to our project has come from lovely Katie Falco, who has been working with us to design our new logo and posters. We are really proud of the result, and Katie’s evocative work will set the visual trend for the rest of the series. If you have been walking around Glasgow, or at the University, you may have seen some of our posters popping up here and there…

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The second great news is that, well, we are getting started at last! We are now counting the days to our launch, and we are looking forward to welcoming you, and to imagining the future of this series with you. Remember we will be giving some free copies of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country! We have been thinking about different ways we could talk about women writers, the transatlantic relationship, and mobility, starting with a free afternoon of talks on Modernism on February 8th, and an all-day symposium at the Glasgow Women’s Library in June. This gives us plenty of time to explore possibilities for the series, so we would really love it if you could think about ideas you would like us to tackle, or even ways you would like to get involved. It could be by coming up with a theme or writer you’d really like us to put on our book club selection!

Finally, we are now expecting you to get writing too! We currently have two writing opportunities open: an Edith Wharton competition, and a collaborative creative writing showcase with the Scottish Writers Centre. We are already receiving some really great texts, and the winning submissions will be published here. Our showcase, which will be on February 28th, will also be a great opportunity to perform / read your work to an audience.

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I hope that I’ve said enough to make you curious! If you have time, or ideas, or both, please drop us a line at @atlantlitwomen or at transatlantic.women@gmail.com. We’d be particularly keen on knowing your thoughts for books and authors you’d like us to celebrate together.

At this point all I have left to say is that I look forward to seeing how the series will unfold in the next few months, and that I hope to meet you next Monday at 5.15 in Room 203, 10 University Gardens, University of Glasgow.

See you soon!

Marine.

 

Virginia Woolf Imagines America (and Insults Edith Wharton)

Plenty of transatlantic women writers including Edith Wharton visited, lived in, and wrote about both Europe and the US. One famous writer, however, published work on America despite having never crossed the pond. In 1938 an American magazine, Hearst’s International, asked Virginia Woolf: ‘What interests you most in this cosmopolitan world of today?’ She replied with her article ‘America, Which I Have Never Seen’. To read it in full check out The Dublin Review. Woolf’s article gives me the perfect excuse to write about my favourite author.

So how do you write about a place you’ve never visited? Apparently you ‘Sit on a rock in Cornwall’ and let Imagination (‘not an altogether accurate reporter’), ‘fly to America and tell you’ all about it. Woolf claims that ‘America is the most interesting thing in the world today.’ Given the recent US elections, some might agree with this sentiment, though for reasons altogether different from Woolf’s.

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Virginia Woolf, 1927, Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University

In her article, Imagination flies across the Atlantic, passing fishing boats, steamers and a cruise ship, until she finally sees ‘the Statue of Liberty. Liberty introducing America!’ In New York ‘everything shines bright’, the city ‘is made of immensely high towers, each pierced with a million holes.’ Here, ‘The old English words kick up their heels and frisk. A new language is coming to birth –’

Woolf interrupts Imagination, she wants to know more about how people live. Imagination replies, ‘The houses stand open to the road. No walls divide them; there are no gardens in front and no gardens behind.’ Imagination sees a building which in England ‘would be the King’s palace. But here are no sentries; the doors stand open to all.’ Perhaps things were different when Woolf wrote this article in 1938, or perhaps she was being naïve. I doubt it, given that she wrote her pacifist manifesto Three Guineas that same year. She certainly wasn’t ignorant of exclusionary politics and rejected nationalist boundaries, claiming that ‘As a woman I have no country, as a woman I want no country, as a woman my country is the whole world’ (Three Guineas, p. 234). Woolf uses Imagination to remind her readers of the values the nation is built on, and what life could be like, what the alternatives could be. In her article she says that ‘America has room for all ages, for all civilizations’ and from ‘this extraordinary combination and collaboration of all cultures, of all civilizations will spring the future –’ And here we are, in what was then the future.

Well. That was 1938. Back then, Woolf asked Imagination to ‘tell us about the Americans in the present – the men and women. What are they like now, the inhabitants of this extraordinary land?’ That question is just as pertinent now as it was then. The answer is complex, and we have an exciting series ahead of us to help navigate our understanding, not just of Americans, but of Europeans, and the transatlantic relations that shape our cultures. There are new boundaries, yes. But there are also new connections. Woolf says that, while the British ‘have shadows that stalk behind us’, Americans ‘have a light that dances in front of them. That is what makes them the most interesting people in the world – they face the future, not the past.’ Bringing transatlantic women writers together we can look at both the past and future, and reassess the shadows and light of the present.

At the close of Woolf’s article, she says ‘we must remember, Imagination, with all her merits, is not always strictly accurate.’ The accuracy or inaccuracy of Woolf’s Imagination probably had a lot to do with the books she read by or about Americans. After all, she’d never visited the USA. So what does Woolf think of American writers, specifically American women writers? Our answers might be found in Woolf’s article ‘American Fiction’. In it, she praises Willa Cather and a few other women writers who I’ll admit, I’ve never heard of, including a Miss Canfield and Miss Hurst. Woolf claims that ‘Women writers have to meet many of the same problems that beset Americans’, as they stumble, ‘eager to shape an art of their own.’ They have some of the same opportunities too, as each is ‘the worker in fresh clay’. She waxes lyrical about Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman: ‘the real American undisguised’.

Woolf is not so generous when it comes to Edith Wharton, who we’ll be discussing at our first reading group. Woolf claims that Edith Wharton and those like her are ‘not Americans; they do not give us anything that we have not got already.’ She accuses Wharton of having an ‘obsession with surface distinctions’ and of ‘exaggerating the English culture, the traditional English good manners, and stressing too heavily or in the wrong places those social differences which, though the first to strike the foreigner, are by no means the most profound.’

Is Edith Wharton as shallow as the lead character of her novel Custom of the Country? We wouldn’t have selected it for our book club if we thought so, but the best way to find out is to read the novel and discuss it with us. Whether you side with Woolf of Wharton, or neither, there’ll be plenty to talk about. We’ll be holding our first book club session on January 30th but in the meantime, give our Edith Wharton competition a go, and make sure you keep an eye out for the series launch on January 16th too. See you soon!

Saskia McCracken

Virginia Woolf. ‘American Fiction’. The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf. Hastings: Delphi Classics, 2014.

—, ‘America, Which I Have Never Seen’. Ed. Andrew McNeillie. The Dublin Review. Issue no. 5 (winter 2001-2) © The Dublin Review 2016. Available online at: http://thedublinreview.com/article/virginia-woolfs-america/

—, A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. Ed. Morag Shiach. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1998.

Edith Wharton Writing Competition

Allie Lewis, Jordan Strange and Stasia Tomecek by Billy Rood
Allie Lewis, Jordan Strange, and Stasia Tomecek reading in “Awake My Thoughts” for LADYGUNN magazine, January 2011. Photograph by Billy Rood.

Dear all,

We hope you are well! The Christmas break is drawing near, and we are looking forward to seeing you at our launch in January.

Many of you are following us on social media, and we decided we’d give you a chance to get creative. As the countdown to our first event is on, we are very excited to present you with our very first writing competition! If you haven’t opened it yet, this might give you the extra push you need to start reading our first pick for the Book Club, The Custom of the Country

Enter our customised competition on Wharton’s most controversial female protagonist Undine Spragg. We’re even giving you a choice!

You can:

A.      Write an online dating profile for Undine. It can be written by Undine herself or by any other protagonist. Maximum 150 words.

or

B.      Create one of Mrs. Heeny’s newspaper clippings: Write a journalistic report on one of Undine’s parties. Maximum 150 words.

Pigeon-blood notepaper with white ink not essential.

 

Please send your entries to us at: transatlantic.women@gmail.com by 30 January 2017. Open to all, one submission per person for each category. Please include your name and email address. If you’re from outside Scotland, please let us know where you’re based. Entrants must be willing to have their submissions posted online, so that we can share the top picks. And yes, there will be a prize!

We look forward to receiving your submissions!

The Transatlantic Literary Women Committee.