Bristol Women’s Literature Festival

Bristol Women’s Literature Festival brings together the country’s best women writers, academics and feminist commentators to the Watershed for thought-provoking discussion, debate and activity.

Friday 16 March: Bristol Women’s Literature Festival launch party

Spike Island Associate Space, 6.30pm – 8.30pm

Step back in time to 1920s Paris, where women from all over America and Europe came together to form a community of writers, publishers and artists, and act as one another’s muses.

The night kicks off with a screening of Greta Schiller’s documentary film Paris was a Woman which explores the lives of these remarkable women, from Gertrude Stein and Colette, to Sylvia Beach and Janet Flanner.

Volunteer performers will then read pieces by some of the women featured in the film.

Because after all,” said salon hostess and ‘notorious lesbian’ Natalie Barney, “Paris is the only place where one can live exactly as you please.”

This event is the launch party of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival and produced in collaboration with Bristol Festival of Ideas. Greta Schiller has given kind permission to screen her film for free.

Tickets on sale NOW

Saturday 17 March: Living alone and liking it with Joanna Scutts

Watershed, Waterside 3, 10am – 10.45am

In 1936, Vogue writer Marjorie Hillis was a single woman in her 40s living alone in Brooklyn. That year she published Living Alone and Liking It – a witty and quietly radical self-help book for woman who claimed the right to be happy and content without a husband or children.

Scutts’ biography of Hillis, The Extra Woman, is the Live-Aloners story. She takes us on a journey from her 1930s heyday to the dawn of the 1960s Women’s Liberation Movement. It’s the story of feminism between the waves, of pathbreaking writers, artists and politicians, who along with thousands of unsung women claimed the right to live on their own and like it.

Scutts will kick off 2018’s Bristol Women’s Literature Festival with a lecture on Hillis and the independent women of 20th Century America.

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Saturday 17 March: 100 years since suffrage: feminism and protest

Watershed, Waterside 3, 11.30am – 1pm

After a long and often violent fight, women over 35 won the right to vote in 1918. 100 years later, and what battles are the feminist movement fighting today?

For a long time, the narrative went that the feminist battle had been won – in the west at least. But in a Trump and #MeToo world, where austerity cuts have hit women hardest and where women are still fighting sexism and misogyny online and off, we need feminism as much as ever.

Professor Helen Taylor will be joined by leading feminist journalists Samira Ahmed and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, historian and author Sheila Rowbotham, and activist and writer Nimco Ali. Together they will discuss the role of feminist protest, writing and activism in 2018, the challenges the movement faces, and our hopes for a feminist future.

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Saturday 17 March: Women Writing Today

Watershed, Waterside 3, 2.30pm – 4pm 

Join writer, broadcaster and journalist Bidisha, as she speaks to some of the UK’s leading contemporary writers as they discuss their work in a lively and inspiring panel discussion.

Louise Doughty is one of the UK’s most successful modern novelists. Her most recent novel, Black Water, was published in 2016 and was chosen as one of the New York Times’ Most Notable Books of the Year. Her novel Apple Tree Yard was adapted into a hugely successful BBC drama starring Emily Watson.

Jenny Landreth’s joyous celebration of women swimming, Swell: A Waterbiography was published to great acclaim in 2017. She’ll discuss the process of bringing to life a forgotten aspect of sporting history, while weaving in memoir and the voices of modern women.

Meena Kandasamy is a poet and novelist. Her poetry collections Touch and Ms Militancy combine her love of language and her passion for social justice. In 2017 her second novel, When I Hit You: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Wife drew upon her own experiences of domestic violence to create an extraordinary read.

Amy Sackville’s first novel The Still Point was longlisted for the Orange Prize and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and her second, Orkney, won the Somerset Maugham Award. 

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Sunday 18 March: 200 years of Frankenstein with Professor Marie Mulvey-Roberts

Watershed, Waterside 3, 11am – 12pm

In 1818, a young woman holidaying in Geneva played a game of telling ghost stories. Her name was Mary Shelley, and the tale she wove that evening became one of our most enduring and best-loved novels, Frankenstein.

200 years since it was first published, Professor Marie-Mulvey Roberts will explore with us just what it is about Shelley’s masterpiece that was so enduring, as well as take us on a journey through the gothic and women’s relationship to this fascinating genre.

Marie Mulvey-Roberts is Professor of English Literature at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Her teaching and research interests include Gothic and gender. She is the co-founder and editor of Women’s Writing on historical women writers, for which she co-edited a special issue on Mary Shelley. Her more recent books Dangerous Bodies: Historicising the Gothic Corporeal and Literary Bristol: Writers and the City have chapters on Frankenstein. With Carol M. Davison, she has edited Global Frankenstein and her films on Frankenstein and its links to Bristol and Bath are included in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) run by the English start at UWE on the literary South West.

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Sunday 18 March: Read Women – Why we love talking about books

Watershed, Waterside 3, 1.30pm – 2.30pm

In 2014, writer and illustrator Joanna Walsh set up the Read Women project. Initially the project involved a challenge to read only women for the whole year, but it quickly evolved into a celebration of women’s writing, and a challenge to reviewers, festival line-ups and book awards that pre-dominately favour male writers. A huge success, the New York Times called the project a ‘rallying cry for equal treatment of women writers’.

Joining project founder Joanna Walsh are her fellow Read Women tweeters: Alexia Richardson, Shoshana Kessler and Bristol Women’s Literature Festival founder Sian Norris. The four will discuss why readers find such pleasure in discussing books, the importance of digital communities of readers, and generally celebrate the joy of discovering and sharing new or hidden writers.

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Sunday 18 March: Writing YA

Watershed, Waterside 3, 3.30pm – 5pm

If you are an avid reader of YA fiction, then it doesn’t matter what age you are – you won’t want to miss this special opportunity to hear from some of the leading YA writers working in the UK today.

Author of Beautiful Broken Things, A Quiet Kind of Thunder and Goodbye Perfect, Sara Barnard loves books, book people and book things. Her debut novel was a Zoella Book Club Choice.

Patrice Lawrence is the author of Orangeboy which won the Bookseller’s YA Book Prize 2017, and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Children. In 2017 she published her second novel, Indigo Donut.

Holly Bourne’s first two books, Soulmates and The Manifesto on How to be Interesting, have been critically acclaimed and translated into six languages. The first book in the ‘Normal’ series, Am I Normal Yet?, has been chosen as a World Book Night book for 2016 and has inspired the formation of Spinster Clubs around the country.

Holly, Sara and Patrice will join Eleanor Pender to discuss their love of writing, how they approach telling stories for a young adult reader, the importance of the YA community, and their forthcoming projects.

This is an absolute must for every teenage reader in Bristol and beyond, with a special opportunity to meet the writers at a book signing after the event.

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The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival is presented in partnership with Bristol Festival of Ideas, Watershed, and Bristol Women’s Voice.


Occasionally, speakers need to drop out at the last minute. If we receive enough notice, we’ll endeavour to find a replacement speaker. However, no refunds are provided for panel discussions when a speaker is absent.


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