Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The F Word

This evening, I took myself down to Foyles for an evening organised by Granta magazine, featuring Rachel Cusk and Taiye Selasi. Rachel is a bit of an angry lady (at least I thought so), Taiye much less so. Rachel's piece is a kind of (nonetheless creative and imaginative) memoir, rather than a fiction, called Aftermath, discussing motherhood, divorce, and the compartmentalisation of womanhood. Taiye's piece (or the excerpt she read out from it), called The Sex Lives of African Girls, I had already heard last night, and I do think she's one to look out for.

The Foyles event (called 'The Legacy: Feminism in Literature Today'), is part of a series linked to the current issue of the magazine (The F Word), and I went to another of these last night (which, I'd have to be honest, I enjoyed a lot more). Last night's 'show' was in The Duke pub, in a lovely little room downstairs that feels like it shouldn't exist. There are no signs - you just go down the stairs where it says 'Gents' and look a bit weird (maybe there's a feminist point to be made there?), and as if by magic, a cosy little Room of Requirement appears out of nowhere, all lit up with candles and fairy lights.

The evening was actually a 'Liar's League' night. This, basically, is a group of actors who meet regularly, the second Tuesday of each month, to read out new writing to an audience. Very exciting. We were treated to readings of Lydia Davies' The Dreadful Mucamas, (an uptight posh employer's opinions of her unruly maids), Helen Simpson's Night Thoughts (a fantastically funny and ingenious inversion of sexual and family politics: 'Don't be such a MasculiNazi', says the careless wife to her long suffering and insecure husband), and Eudora Welty's Gentlemen (an application letter to The New Yorker from an enthusiastic would-be journalist from Mississippi, 'the nation's most backward state', who is '23 years old, six weeks on the loose in N.Y.'). It's a wonderful idea, and the actors really brought to life the texts in that way that actors do, if they're any good. The notable exception was Taiye, who, at the end of the evening, read out her own work. With the best will in the world, I do think that was a mistake. Writers are notoriously bad at reading out their own writing, and I'd have to be fair and say Taiye wasn't an exception. Not that I enjoyed it any the less. The piece was beautiful, visual, delicate - warm, if that's not a silly word to use. I was really there, and I honestly don't think there's any higher praise for a writer. You can go into technicalities, but at the end of the day, if you feel it, it's working. My main issue was that it was quite difficult to get into her very fast reading pace (one can only assume that was nerves, since that wasn't how she talked when answering questions afterwards), and even more difficult to actually hear her (very lovely, of course) soft voice. Nevertheless, she'll go on to do great things, I imagine. She already has the backing of Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie. Even more impressive (and perhaps helped along a little by the former), she already has a publishing deal on a novel, due to come out next year, that she hasn't even finished writing yet (let alone editing), despite being a young, almost completely unknown writer. That's pretty damn impressive. Watch that space.

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