Issue 118,

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New Welsh Reader 118, Autumn 2018


Citizen Thinker Ed (Gwen Davies)

The New Welsh Writing Awards, established by ourselves to promote long-form creative prose forms in a programme of rotating categories, completed its fourth year this summer. Previous incarnations have focussed on nature and travel writing, the memoir and the novella. This year we celebrated the essay collection, a form which Prof Tony Brown, in his recent blog for us about his edition of The Dragon Has Two Tongues by Glyn Jones, describes as not having ‘very deep roots in Wales – at least not in English’ (Welsh-language essayists I rate include TH Parry-Williams and Twm Morys). Our writing prize sought to address this imbalance, and sought unpublished books that marry literary rigour with personal voice and docu-journalism. I didn’t want collected memoir pieces, nor book projects divided into chapters, nor academic titles with a bog of notes underfoot, and I did not solicit cobbled-together diary entries, blogs or columns with no ballast.

The Awards of 2018 also aimed to replenish the dearth of female essay collection writers in Wales, whom I had hoped might be inspired by the roll call, in my Call for Entries and video recommendations, of such writers as Eula Biss in Notes from No Man’s Land, and Annie Dillard, Rebecca Solnit and Jenny Diski. This year we achieved the first, but not the second (gender reconfiguration), since, for the first time since the prize was inaugurated, early June saw an all-male shortlist. At our shortlist event at Aberystwyth Arts Centre bookshop, editor Janet Thomas of Firefly and publicist Helena Earnshaw told me they thought the reason women writers were slow to take up essays, or at least why their potential publishers are, is that the work of my half of the population is perceived to be less ‘weighty’; not so ‘academic’ and ‘rigorous’. Are you up for a challenge, ladies (those born to the gender, those achieving it and those with it thrust upon them, alike)? Can you hold a candle to Robert Minhinnick and John Barnie?

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