Jane Anger is a bookseller at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, which was awarded the title of Independent Bookshop of the Year at this year’s British Book Awards. Jane is also the co-ordinator of Feminist Book Fortnight, which runs from 16 to 30 June 2018.
1) What is Feminist Book Fortnight, and how did it come about?
At Five Leaves bookshop in Nottingham, where I now work, we noticed a resurgence of interest from customers of all ages, but particularly young people, in feminist issues and books, starting two to three years ago. We were also facing some of the same issues as in the 80s: lack of diversity of all kinds in children’s books, lack of publishing of women’s books (the VIDA stats bear this out and they also highlight the biases in reviewing – men’s books get reviewed more; women writers reported that they are more likely to get published if they have a male protagonist and so on). So, why was there less feminist publishing than in the 80s despite, in technical terms, it never being easier to publish a book?
I puzzled over this with Ross, the owner of Five Leaves, and with feminist friends who had worked in both Sisterwrite, York Community Bookshop and Compendium in the 80s. As a result, in 2017 Five Leaves organised a day school in Nottingham called Feminist Publishing: Then, Now and In the Future. Some of us laid out copies of feminist books from our personal collections, just to show the very diverse range of books published in the 80s by and about women. After this event Ross and myself discussed relaunching Feminist Book Fortnight. We would not centrally organise events (that would be up to each shop) but we would set it up, provide a website and social media sites, some posters to each shop and the admin to run this side of it. Our concern was the lack of diversity in the personnel within publishing industry and in books published. We wanted to keep the pressure on publishers in this regard, to show that diverse books are needed and are not just another passing publishing fad. We also wanted to make an intervention in that debate from outside London.
Once I started phoning around a few shops to gauge interest it soon became apparent that this was something booksellers really felt was necessary. So we went ahead. At the time of writing over 45 bookshops are involved and several other venues. Details on the FBF website.
2) Have you partnered with any publishers in forming and promoting Feminist Book Fortnight? What could publishers do to get involved with next year’s FBF?
No. This is not a centrally organised promotion and it is up to each bookshop to celebrate feminist books however they wish to do it. The initial comms out to the trade press made it clear that we would all welcome publishers to take an initiative and make proposals to shops if they had suitable books or authors available. Predictably, it is the small independent publishers who have been most proactive, as they are with publishing a diverse range of books.
3) What are the aims of the project?
As in first question above, and thereafter, to see where we all want to go with it.
4) Why did you choose to focus on radical and independent bookshops, rather than the bigger chains?
Because we are one! Because we are the ones doing the work. We are the ones mostly taking the initiative and with far less resources. Our bookshops keep the money local. No far-off investors only interested in profits. We are doing diversity all year round. Chains get bigger discounts for doing less in lots of ways. Also, indies are doing better year on year and that is because of the way we approach what we do in our communities.
5) Feminist publishing seems to be having a ‘moment’, with feminist memoirs and manifestos coming out from almost every publisher. Do you think this trend will continue? What issues would you like to see get more coverage from publishers?
We want permanent change and diverse voices to be published for readers. What we want is, for example, children’s books which incidentally feature children from many different cultures. We seek these out and believe me, most books depict an unrealistic portrayal of where most of us live. Women’s rights are not ‘a moment’, so this is our activism to ensure that publishers don’t see it that way. It’s not ‘hygge’, which was ‘a moment’!