Belletrista Blog


The shortlist for this year’s Caine Prize has just been announced and three women are in the running for the prestigious award. This is always an exciting time of year – the Prize is a great way to discover short stories by excellent writers. Lucky for us, the Prize’s website links to a copy of each story so you can play the judge and decide who you think should win.

Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo has been nominated for her story ‘Hitting Budapest’. You can read a brief interview with Bulawayo here.

Beatrice Lamwaka from Uganda has been shortlisted for ‘Butterfly Dreams’,

Lauri Kubuitsile’s ‘In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata’ is the third female-authored story on the shortlist. You can read Lauri’s blog, Thoughts From Botswana, here.

The winner will be announced on 11 July 2011.

Posted by Char

Last Tuesday, March 8, was International Women’s Day.  It seemed to get a lot of press–perhaps because it was the centenary celebration. That morning, when I opened up my e-mail and Facebook page, I was flooded with all sorts of interesting messages in honour of the day. Each day since then, I’ve stumbled across International Women’s Day related media every time I sit down at my computer.

First, both a friend and Brightwide (makers of social and political films) sent me a link to the short piece EQUALS, with Judi Dench and Daniel Craig reprising their James Bond roles. One of their many staggering statistics is the fact that women are responsible for two-thirds of the work worldwide, but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property.

Then Doctors Without Borders directed me to an article in the Huffington post on Fistual: a Horrifying Condition Affecting Women Worldwide. Caused by complications of childbirth, fistula is not a disease, but a preventable medical condition. It is a public health issue that scars women in impoverished areas of the world, particularly Africa and Asia, forcing them into lives of shame and despair. Women who suffer from this lead lives of isolation and are unable to work outside the home.

On a happier note, I also got a message from Ten Thousand Villages, a not-for-profit program that creates “opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term fair trading relationships.” I drooled over all the great products made by women from all over the globe, and felt that perhaps there is something possible beyond “shame and despair.” The key here, once again, is clearly gainful employment.

The United Nations’ theme for this International Women’s Day is Equal Access to Education, Training, and Science & Technology: Pathway to decent work for women. Which brings me to the second part of my title, women writers. Well, one woman writer; South African Sindiwe Magona, to be exact. I’m currently reading Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, which is a collection of her short stories. The first part is a series of interconnected stories that tell the experiences of various African women working as maids for white people. These stories were striking, and especially pertinent to this theme of “decent work.” Through her characters, Magona shows how domestic labour can be little better than slavery, and how it certainly doesn’t qualify as “decent work.” I’ve been thinking about this, and Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, all week. In my opinion, the sign of a great book  is one that stays with you, and makes you think.

I’d like to say more about Sindiwe Magona’s book, but I will make myself stop here as I will be reviewing it for a future issue of Belletrista. Stay tuned for more.

Picture: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty, published by The Guardian:

The past few weeks have seen extraordinary political upheavel and social unrest in North Africa. The protests that originally started in Tunisia now seem to be engulfing Egypt.

Like many people I’ve been glued to the rolling coverage on Al-Jazeera English with its footage shot from the window of the TV station’s Cairo office. The streets are full of men shouting for the downfall of President Mubarak. But how are Egyptian women making their feelings known? Prominent writer Ahdaf Soueif  published an article in The Guardian, a UK newspaper, on Thursday 27th January about the popular uprising. It would be good to hear how other Egyptian women who are participating in or writing about these momentous events.

Soueif has also contributed to the paper today as part of a collection of ten Arab writers’ reflections on the legacy of the Tunisian protests. Moroccan writer Laila Lalami feels a sense of excitement about the possibility of change; Joumana Haddad, a Lebanese poet, is unsure that what is happening in Africa will change life in Beirut. (Click on the coloured tags on the map at the beginning of the articles to access other writers’ thoughts)

I have a sense of hope but feel uncertain about whatn the future holds. Will whatever happens this weekend lead to real and lasting changes in Egyptian society and in other countries in the region? Will the gender oppression against which writers like Nawal el Saadawi rail so vociferously actually be broken down?

Posted by Char

I’m sure you’ll have seen news about the political upheavel that’s happening in Tunisia. Watching the news, I’ve realised that I know very little about the country. Other North African states have a much higher profile in the British press – Tunisia is really only known as a holiday destination.

So any suggestions for books written by Tunisian women that will give me a glimpse of life there?

Posted by Char

TED is a non-profit organisation that holds tow annual conferences bringing together the great and the good from all walks of life to give 18 minute talks about they experiences, their thoughts and their dreams.

In July 2010, Turkish author Elif Shafak gave a talk about the danger of identity politics destroying the art of story-telling. She explained that writers should be seeking to tell stories that take readers beyond their cultural comfort zone but all too often writers are expected to stay within their own culture – Muslim women are expected to write stories, usually unhappy ones, about Muslim women. Writers are not seen as creative individuals but as representatives of their country. Shafak asks why students on creative writing courses are taught to write about what they know – they should be taught to write about what they don’t know.

TED talks are fascinating. In 2009 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a talk that also focused on identity and literature. She warned that if we only hear a single story about a person or a country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

In December 2010 TEDWomen ‘will invite both women and men to explore in depth: Who are the women leading change? What ideas are they championing? How are women reshaping the future?’. I’m looking forward to exploring the talks that seek to answer these questions.

Egyptian author Adhaf Soueif (featured in Issue 6 of Belletrista) has posted a comment piece on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site about the parliamentary elections taking place in her country in November.

She explains the dominance of the ruling National Democratic Party and their moves against voices of opposition in the run up to the vote, and discusses the possibility of a boycott of the election.