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This series focuses the spotlight on women writers who have made huge contributions to the world of literature, fighting against the cultural expectations placed on them to tell stories their own way.
1) 'Sister of my Soul' - Dorothy Wordsworth 1771 - 1855 (August 4th)
Dorothy lost her mother at the age of 6 and she was sent to be fostered by a distant relative. She wasn’t reunited with her siblings until she was a teenager and formed a close bond with her brother William. They lived together for the rest of their lives, first in Somerset, and later in the Lake District where William, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey came to be known as the Lake Poets. Dorothy never married and wrote prolifically. Her journals (which she kept until she died) record her intimate daily life and the extraordinary relationship with her brother William.
2) 'The Blood Jet is Poetry' - Sylvia Plath 1932 - 63 (August 11th)
Born in America, Sylvia Plath came to England on a Fulbright scholarship. Brilliant and gifted, she suffered from depression and anxiety. At Cambridge she met the equally brilliant Ted Hughes and they formed a personal and creative partnership. Driven to write, Plath constantly struggled with the juggling act women had to perform in a culture of traditional expectations. Children, housework, and a husband who was also a major literary figure, had to compete with poetry. Her husband’s infidelities made it even more difficult. Writing spectacularly original poetry and prose that defied the convention that women shouldn’t write about ‘the personal’, Sylvia succumbed to depression and took her own life in 1963 aged 31.
3) 'The Queen of Crime' - Agatha Christie 1890 - 1976 (August 18th)
Born Agatha Miller in Torquay in 1890, to wealthy middle-class parents, she became the best-selling novelist of all time, writing 66 detective novels, as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap. Her technique shaped the modern detective novel.
She married Archie Christie just before the first world war. He was posted abroad, while Agatha worked in a hospital dispensary where she learned a great deal about poisons. She was already writing and had several novels rejected before The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920. When Archie asked for a divorce, Agatha mysteriously disappeared for more than a week, creating a national sensation. She later married an archaeologist and the experience of excavations in the middle east informed several of her novels.
4) 'And Still I Rise' - Maya Angelou 1928 - 2014 (August 25th)
The great granddaughter of a slave, Maya Angelou was born in St Louis, Missouri, and brought up in a segregated America, mostly by her grandmother. She had a baby at 17, and took a variety of jobs to support herself and her son including streetcar conductor, sex worker, professional dancer and actress. She married a novelist who encouraged her to write. In New York she met Martin Luther King and became involved in politics. She is best known for her poetry and autobiographies, but was also a university lecturer, broadcast journalist and film director, calling herself ‘a teacher who writes’. She dedicated her long life to campaigning for an end to ‘the idiocies of racism and sexism’.
- Duration: 4 x 60 mins
- Online Zoom event: Join from your computer, phone or tablet (a recording will be available)
Meet the Host, Kathleen Jones
Kathleen Jones is a poet, novelist and author of eight literary biographies. Her account of the lives of the women associated with the Lake Poets, ‘A Passionate Sisterhood’ was a Virago Classic and won the Barclays Bank prize for biography. After graduating from Bristol University, Kathleen worked in broadcast journalism and has taught creative writing in a number of universities. She is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow, and in 2012 was elected a Fellow of the English Association for services to literature. She has also published four collections of poetry and a travel journal.
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