Since 2014, EWF has invited key industry professionals to engage in closed forums that have covered topics from Queer Writers, Pay the Writers, Women in Writing, Writers with Disability, First Nations Australian Writers, Self-Care in the Arts and Emerging at Any Age. These forums have made public statements of support to emerging writers in these communities, and EWF has committed to the needs of these communities being central to programming outcomes.
In 2018 we revisited two closed forums from past years: Women and Non-Binary Writers and Writers and Disability, with a view to continuing the conversation around what’s changed (and what hasn’t) in the issues that these communities face. This is the statement from the Women and Non-Binary Writers forum.
Firstly, we want to acknowledge the custodians of the land we’re live, work and play on, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations, whose sovereign relations with this place have never been and will never be severed. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and extend those respects to any Aboriginal people reading. It’s important for us who are settlers here to constantly remember that our existence here comes at the cost of their ongoing dispossession and genocide; we have a responsibility to be constantly aware of our settler privilege and what it’s allowed us to achieve, and to make sure we work towards going beyond tokenistic gestures and acknowledgments in our practice. There were no First Nations women or non-binary people present at this closed forum, though there are many working in the Arts (see, for example, some of these Aboriginal-led online publications: IndigenousX, Ascension Magazine, The Black Rising, National Indigenous Times, Koori Mail, Blackfulla Revolution, NITV…) and are in fact crucial to Arts spaces.
Amongst the things the #metoo movement, initiated by African-American civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and made mainstream on social media in 2017, has alerted us to is the importance of bearing witness to the stories of others. We heeded this call and put active listening and embodied experience at the heart of this forum. We shared knowledge, ideas and feelings verbally and in writing in pairs, in small groups and as a large group. We aimed to make the two hours we had together to be meaningful in and of itself. We also aimed to make the discussion we had reflective of and responsive to the communities in which we work. We’d now like to share some of the contents of that discussion.
Diversity and inclusion:
We agree that diversity and inclusion must be a critical focus of our industry leaders and gatekeepers and must move beyond mere tokenism.
We agree on the necessity of keeping feminist spaces inclusive so that all women and non-binary people – which means trans women, women of colour, QTIPOC and people whose identities meet at the intersection of these – all feel welcome. We agree that spaces for ‘women writers’ should move beyond being closed to anyone who is not cis and white, as they have been in the past.
We wonder how diversity and inclusion might be measured. We also wonder how we might ensure Arts organisations are held accountable in this area.
We call for the creation of anti-colonial and anti-patriarchal syllabuses,programs, publishing agendas, and the hiring of diverse teachers and lecturers, particularly teachers and lecturers of colour.
We call for an interrogation of and dismantling of the systems currently in place that are by their design and nature working to prevent people of colour from existing in these spaces as industry leaders and gatekeepers.
Collaboration and mentorships, formal and informal:
We see collaboration and mentorships as strategies that disrupt patriarchal and colonial systems that built on individual success and failure.
We agree that collaboration and mentorships make better writing, improve wellbeing and build community.
We call on established writers and industry leaders to make it their business to hire and fairly pay women and non-binary people to act as mentors.
We put our weight behind Archer’s proposed mentorship program.
Making the writing life sustainable:
We agree that money – or rather the lack thereof – is the crux of many problems in the arts.
We wonder how it might be possible to live a writing life for love and money.
We stress the urgency of being transparent about the emotional and physical labour of working in the arts.
We call for transparency around pay rates for writers, editors, administrators and Arts workers.
We ask those who offer unpaid internships to think hard about the difficulties they pass forward and how unpaid internships work to lock out and further marginalise certain women and non-binary people from the industry.
We urge those who find the things women and non-binary writers are saying to sit with their discomfort.
We acknowledge the difficulties of doing the right thing, and that progress is slow. But we must continue to push forward and push hard if we are to achieve any kind of positive change.
Chair: Melinda Harvey (Monash University)
Fiona Dunne (Stella Prize)
Hella Ibrahim (Djed Press)
Natalie Kon-yu (Victoria University)
Jini Maxwell (NYWF)
Leah Jing McIntosh (Liminal)
Amy Middleton (Archer Magazine)
Mira Schlosberg (Voiceworks)
Veronica Sullivan (Feminist Writers Festival)