Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Men Only

Is the history of Welsh writing in English a male preserve? Did women take part? Or are the Anglo-Welsh a bit like the American Beat generation – men, men and then more men. Women hanging around the fringes, stringing beads and drinking wine while the men do writing’s real work. It’s certainly the case that Wales’ golden age of Anglo outpouring was managed almost entirely by males.

At a poems and pints night as part of this year’s BayLit Festival (held, amazingly, in Cardiff Central Library where books and beer have never before mixed) Aisling Tempeny told us in a very funny poem what studying the subject was like. Welsh writing in English consisted of blokes called Jones, Williams, Thomas, Rhys and Davies with first names like Rhys, William, Gwyn, and Glyn. There was a Gwyn Jones and a Glyn Jones and a Thomas Jones and a Rhys Davies, a Lewis Jones, a Lewis Davies and then even a Richard Lewis Davies. Men in a cymric blur. Women not present. How does the newcomer manage?

And I admit that I’ve found it hard, sometimes, to market such things with precision. When the Academi’s annual Gwyn Jones lecture was on the subject of Glyn Jones, both √©minences grise , I did have trouble passing the message on. That’s the problem with Welsh names. Curtis, Webb and Tripp are the memorable exceptions.

The first set of free author postcards from Academi and the Rhys Davies Trust featured sixteen faces. All dead. These were images from the core of twentieth century Welsh writing in English. Brenda Chamberlain was one. The other fifteen were men. Jack Jones, Gwyn Jones, RS, Tripp, Rhys Davies, Glyn Jones, Raymond Williams, Roland Mathias. The authors on whom our tradition rests.

Were women missing because they didn’t exist, had been overlooked or simply never had their books published. They certainly exist - if you hunt literary history you’ll find dozens of female names. Women writers were overlooked by a generation of readers but are now back with a bang. Check the work of the English departments and the output of the reprinting presses for proof.

Academi and the Rhys Davies Trust have now launched a second set of free postcards, including images of a few writers who are still with us. Black and white images of Hilda Vaughan, Margiad Evans, Lynette Roberts, Dorothy Edwards feature prominently. There are also cards depicting Idris Davies, Caradoc Evans, Ron Berry, David Jones, W H Davies and a very youthful looking Dannie Abse. Two wear hats, one has beads and eleven wear ties. Another age. To get your free set send a large self addressed envelope to Academi, Writers Postcards: Set 2, Mount Stuart House, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff CF10 5FQ.

An earlier version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail. #170


Anonymous said...

Worth pointing people to Honno (www.honno.co.uk) who are working hard to address this misperception and imbalance - publishing women's writing that's gone out of print and working with contemporary writers.

Helena Earnshaw said...

As the previous person pointed out the Honno Classics series has been reprinting the great Welsh Women writers of Wales for nearly twenty five years - both English and Welsh language writers, including many of those featured on the new Academi postcards!

So no, the history of Welsh writing in English certainly isn't a male preserve - you just need to look a little harder beyond the male tradition to find some great writers that weren't called Rhys, William or Dylan!