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International Women’s Day

On this day it seems appropriate to celebrate women writers and artists, many of whom were feminists as well.

Drusilla Modjeska has written about the impact of domestic pressures on the life of artists in her great book ‘Stravinsky’s Lunch’. The title comes from the fact that the composer Stravinsky, demanded that his family eat their lunch in silence so that his concentration was not disturbed by even the slightest noise. The book is a double biography of two women artists, Stella Bowen and Grace Cossington Smith, born about the same time, but whose lives followed very different trajectories.

Drusilla Modjeska said ‘I tell their stories, similar and different both, as a koan in my own practice as a woman and a writer. I tell them to understand.’

The other writer and feminist who should be better remembered is Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, who wrote under the male sounding name of Miles Franklin, in order to be accepted by the literary critics and reading public. Her novel ‘My Brilliant Career’ 1901, is probably well known, as a movie was made starring Judy Davis but her other work has largely disappeared.

Her greatest legacy has been of course, the creation of the Miles Franklin Award for ‘a  novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.’ The list of winners since 1957, include Tim Winton, Patrick White and Peter Carey and only 12 woman writers including Thea Astley. In addition we have the newly created Stella Prize which is for writing by Australian women in all genres. The long list this year includes 8 works of non fiction and only 3 novels. The short list is to be announced today on International Women’s Day.