Herland, womens salon

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 21st Aug 2018.

See also the Take-Over Tent and other Revolting Women events today until 26th Aug 2018.

Katie Ailes
Katie Ailes, spoken word artist

Herland is in the tradition of the famous Women’s Salons of the Age of Enlightenmentin which women played a central role. Salons provided a place for women and men to congregate for intellectual discourse.” (see Gertrude Stein et al who “used culture to affect change”) This, the first outside Glasgow, was hosted by the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival which has a special Revolting Women theme this 2018 curated by Adele Patrick.

Set in the sparkling Speigeltent, a roundhouse of mirrors, plush burgundy velvet and, on this evening, red lights, Herland is an eclectic mix of poetry and music, wound around a celebration of women of the suffrage movement in this anniversay year of The Representation of the People’s Act 1918 when the first group of women were given the vote in the UK. In attendance are women and some welcome men, between the ages of 16 and 76 (a guesstimate), and the sparky Zoe Strachan and Louise Welsh who compere. They are both novelists dressed in red which they note are the colours of revolution, socialism, menstrual periods, and passion.

quiz and programme

On the tables are home-made crowns each bearing the name of a Scottish suffragette who Adele Patrick in her Wee Review interview, said she hopes will become household names. In the air is some of the The Revolting Women Playlist – Compared To What Roberta Flack, Na Gode by Yemi Alade) which was compiled by Patrick from 100 female Book Fest authors and will be released via Twitter and Spotify. There is a quiz, designed to get us to talk to our fellow table sharers (success!), linking the writer’s names and the tracks they had chosen – with prizes!

The acts are quality: Heir of the Cursed is haunting, complex, making an absolutely beautiful sound with her voice and electric guitar, radical and reassuring through anthem and lullaby;  Diljeet Bhachu and Hannah Lee‘s own compositions, on lilting flutes, are melodic, skilled and cognisant of their Chinese and Indian heritage; Nadine Aisha Jassat delivers her poems in a refreshingly un-poetic way, is eloquent and The Old Codgers recognises her Zimbabwean / Yorkshire inheritance in equally amusing and telling ways; Katie Ailes is a spoken word artist and her first poem is full of fairy godmother wishes for her daughter.

There is good spread of racial backgrounds and local women on the stage; rejoicing in the personal as well as the collective, naming children and parents alongside the much bigger political and sociological picture. It is a relaxing, entertaining, and thought-provoking affair.

Did you know there was a Scottish-Asian Creative Group?

book festival

 

Adele Patrick – interview

Adele Patrick is the Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager at Glasgow Women’s Library. She is a guest curator at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2018 with Revolting Women.

Adele Patrick is a charming advocate for girl power! She speaks carefully and eloquently, amazing quotes encapsulated in almost every sentence, and with her striking style, keen gaze and enthusiastic smile, she’s an easy person to talk to. It was also a pleasant surprise to get a warm hug on parting.

She explains that she is from “a working class background of bouffanted, formidable, feisty, matriarchal women”, and the word revolutionary appears and reappears throughout the conversation, not least in what she calls “my role as an older woman in the movement”. None of her passion for women’s equality has flagged since she started to foment Women in Profile in 1987/88 which aimed “to re-brand Glasgow away from a masculinised culture to be more inclusive for European City of the Year in 1990.”

Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) where she works today, has just been pipped to the post as Art Fund Museum of the Year by the Tate’s St Ives branch. Just now off the London train, she speaks creatively and eloquently in response: “We realised how monolithic the establishment is and were really pleased to be the grit in the oyster. There we were, sitting in the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum where the awards took place) in the belly of the beast surrounded by the Rubens (whose God the Father hangs there) and in the company of the guardians of culture, the old boys’ and girls’ clubs, proud to have rattled cages, but it is also sobering. It would have been a brave decision to give us it.” She went on to explain that they are preparing to unleash their collective response. “We are the first equalities organisation to be in the final, so it is apt to share our experience. Someone told my colleague, ‘well, it is a sexist organisation isn’t it?’ referring to the Women’s Library. There is certainly no place for complacency!” she said wryly.

She is reading Helen Pankhurst’s Deeds Not Words, which is part of the Pioneers and Provocateurs event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with Fern Riddle. She explains that it reminds her both of what the struggle for equality has achieved and how far there is still to go. “The book contextualises the route of change from the first-wave (feminism) through politics, reproductive health and women’s representation. The gestation period for change is so incredibly long; the tenacity of resistance to relinquish power is unbelievable.” This year, 100 since the Representation of the People Act, is “a critical one to do something brave.”

Patrick is one of the Book Festival curators and her theme’s title is the delicious and courageous Revolting Women. She chose Pankhurst (great-granddaughter of Emmeline) alongside luminaries such as Hilary Clinton, and there are any number of other delights to choose from, the most lauded of which are the Herland (say her-land) Salon and the Take-Over Tents. The former were pioneered by the GWL in the Scottish west, so are coming to Edinburgh for the first time. With characteristic excitement she states, “I am absolutely thrilled, it’s going to be utterly brilliant, especially the pay-what-you-can fact of it. It will be a crucible for showcasing what women do, in a safe space and to a mixed audience, because still these types of spaces are few and far between when showing more diverse work.” Heir of the Cursed will be there (aka Kenyan Beldina Odenyo Onassis described as “a caulbearer born of an apparition, a primordial memory, a penny drop in the wee hours” by Sofar Sounds (secret gigs and intimate concerts) giving us her own songs and doing feminist lullaby workshops; and there will also be militant T-shirt printing inspired by the pop-up library titles. (Incidentally if you have any spare white ones, please send them to the GWL).

Adele PATRICK 2

This year, young women have again been involved in the planning of the programme and taken a leadership role. In the past, those who had done that followed up with a trip to the festival where they met published authors whose backgrounds were not necessarily different from theirs, who had also survived depression or who had experienced similar poverty. It is vital to Patrick that such budding lasses have these opportunities, because “you never know what they will do with them. In meetings with politicians I’ve spoken a lot about how diminished women’s dreams and ambitions can be, the criminal lack of aspiration, the narrowness of expectation for women (also in the education system). I have a vision of a different future because I have seen how remarkable the results can be given a tiny bit of encouragement.”

There are many other fantastic ideas: Every woman writer who is taking part in the Book Festival has been asked for a Spotify list of her choice of revolutionary music to form the soundtrack to the Herland Salon; four powerful women of colour will focus on detoxing institutions (such as museums, see above) in Breaking Down Barriers; Queer Africa (the GWL has strong connections with Nigeria) features short stories of feminism and intersectionality in contemporary Africa; and “part of our aim for the Take Over tents is that the names of the Scottish women who got us the vote will roll off the tongue in the future – we have strident spine poems, manifesto workshopping and we hope to fuel your appetite for change. Obviously there will also be tea and buns!”

As I watched Patrick walk away, I noticed the inscription on her bag: Diversity is being asked to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance. It struck me that her work is all about inclusion – she is not only developing intelligent and ground-breaking projects, but at the same time she has her eye on the deep underlying issues. She is using the knowledge and wit that she has built up through years of experience which in turn has given her an understanding of how to tackle those who still, whether knowingly or unconsciously, oppose genuine equality. “Most people do subscribe to these shared values, but in the work setting in particular there’s a mismatch between individual principles and this lack of alignment that we are seeing.”

For more information about the Revolting Women programme at the Edinburgh International Festival 11 – 25 Aug, see https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/themes/revolting-women-213

Are you planning to go to the Book Festival? What is the event you most want to attend? I’d love to know, so leave me a comment if you have time.