Mary Eagleton on the First Five Years: 2005-10

The Contemporary Women’s Writing project started in a mix of emotions. Staring at my PC one day in 2005, I was frustrated at the number of repetitive, fairly meaningless tasks in the inbox before me, nostalgic – probably with a hint of rose-tint – for the feminist and women’s writing groups I had belonged to in the past and which had faded away, but hopeful that I could rekindle some of that intellectual focus and warm collegiality. I emailed ten friends around the country: Should we? Could we? Would it? Back came the replies clearly showing that it was the Contemporary Women’s Writing Network, not Barack Obama, who coined the slogan ‘Yes we can!’

This small ‘band of sisters’ began meeting on a regular basis to discuss how we could focus and generate our common interest in contemporary women’s writing. Progress was speedy. We established a website at De Montfort University under the direction of Professor Imelda Whelehan; Professor Lucie Armitt, then at the University of Bangor, hosted the first international conference (now a biennial event); and we supported post-graduate students in establishing a vibrant post-graduate network. Our underlying principle was openness – to colleagues around the world, to the variety of contemporary women’s writing and to a wide range of outputs.

We have been highly productive. The second biennial conference was held in 2008 at the University of Leicester, organised by Dr Emma Parker; our first overseas conference took place in 2010 at San Diego State University, organised by Dr Edith Frampton. In addition, we have supported smaller conferences, day-schools, seminars and symposia which have produced a number of impressive edited collections and special issues of journals. Most especially, we established in 2007 the journal, Contemporary Women’s Writing (Oxford University Press), edited by Professor Susan Stanford Friedman (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and myself. The outstanding quality of the contributions and production was recognised by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals which, at the 2009 MLA meeting, awarded Contemporary Women’s Writing the prize for the Best New Journal.

Our aim is to maintain this impetus and to establish a firm basis for sustainability and expansion. With this in mind we decided at the San Diego conference to reconstitute ourselves as an Association with an elected organising committee. Do join us; offer your support in any way you can; spread the word about both the Association and the journal. There are no mixed emotions now: we are optimistic, energetic, forward looking.

Prof. Mary Eagleton