Granta Turns 40, Stella Duffy, Devorah Baum, & Eleanor Chandler

I almost didn’t go to the Granta 40th Anniversary talk at Essex Book Fest because I saw Granta and thought – posh, exclusive, and cliquey. I thought it would be another literary magazine event where I feel like an impostor, attending insider literary events while having nothing published by the magazine, or any ‘reputable’ magazine. I thought it would be another lit mag event where I walk away in awe of the talent that already exists and question whether my voice is needed, or if there is even space.

As a feminist, I believe that every voice has the right to be heard and expressed. As a feminist, I believe that everyone has the potential to be a poet, artist, creative if encouraged by society to express and share their thoughts. Literary magazines are the gatekeepers who decide whose voice is worth hearing. And yet, the Granta event felt inclusive, diverse, and welcoming. Wahhh?

“I thought Granta was for posh people.” Stella Duffy cut to the core; she has written 14 books, 10 plays, and has a fucking OBE. She shared that she grew up in South London on a council estate with her seven siblings, and never thought she could have been accepted by Granta until she was.

Devorah Baum, an associate English literature professor at the University of Southampton, author, and filmmaker, shared her feeling that she should “never be included anywhere ever”. They were both shocked that they could be included in a magazine as prestigious as Granta. Fucking hell, if a woman thanked by the Queen for her services and another published by Yale University Press don’t think they are good enough for Granta then who is?!?!

Thankfully Granta has become aware of their elitist reputation and are trying to do something about it. Granta was originally started as a radical grassroots magazine to publish new and emerging authors. Isn’t that a little too ironic! Eleanor Chandler, the Deputy Online Editor at Granta, then asked – “what do you think is the role of literary magazines?”

Devorah recently edited a magazine for them, and shared how lit mags are able to share many different perspectives. Stella shared how once your words are in print, it is a commitment. Once in print, your thoughts and ideas cannot go away, they become a different thing all together, they begin to have their own life. And with that, Stella and Devorah both read an excerpt from their pieces published by Granta – which have taken on their own lives.

Devorah read from a reflection on the short story “Wants” by Grace Paley called “What Do Women Want.” It was an eloquent and thoughtful piece with genuine insight into the dynamics between men and women. I was hit by this line:

“In my own marriage, my reluctance to argue where there’s real disagreement has itself been a source of real disagreement.”

Devorah and I grew up in different cultures, time periods, and places – and yet we both experienced this exact thing. My boyfriend broke up with me because I never disagreed with him. And yet, when I disagreed that we should break up, he had already decided that we were done, and thus, there could be no disagreement. He had already won. And just like all our other disagreements, I stayed silent and let him win. I’d much rather be alone than persuade someone to be in a relationship with me. It was both shocking and reassuring to know that she had a similar experience.

Stella read from her contribution to the #MeToo movement, “Telling My Story.” Gosh, it was powerful, moving and inspiring. She shared her experience as a queer women with sexual harassment, one that has been denied the spotlight it deserves. The #MeToo movement has mostly focused on the story of the beautiful, rich, and famous; unintentionally (I hope!) marginalizing the voices of “poor women, women of colour, elderly women, of women who are still girls and not able to speak up yet, disabled women, trans women, silenced and trafficked women.” Although, I’d much rather be marginalized than called a witch (Everything connects!), it is important that these stories are heard, too.

Stella shared how nervous she was to reveal who had sexually abused her as a child, and purposefully avoided specific details. Another line hit me in the chest:

“Like countless other women, I am willing to out myself, but not the perpetrator. We are trained into silence, trained to protect men from their poor, hapless, helpless selves.”

I was stunned by the truth of it. I have had two traumatic sexual experiences that triggered my most recent depression. I am still trying to heal from them even though they took place a year and six months ago. I am still terrified to talk about them or identify the people who made me feel this way. I saw the #MeToo movement and felt a wave of panic with each post. I was not ready, I am still not ready. Stella’s bravery and the bravery of those who have shared their stories gives me hope.

Stella Duffy and Devorah Baum are two strong inspiring women (bad bitches!), and I am so thankful for Granta for putting on an inspiring event and for including these women in their publication – and Essex Book Festival for hosting it. They have created a space for challenging, yet vital conversations and perspectives.

I’m starting to think I was wrong about Granta

I’d love to hear what you think! Comment below, & let’s start a discussion. <3

Find out more about Stella Duffy’s work, as well as “Telling My Story”.

Find out more about Devorah Baum’s work, as well as “What Do Women Want”, the issue she edited, the “Politics of Feeling.“, and her film “The New Man”.

Find out more about Grace Paley’s short story “Wants”.

Find out more about Granta Magazine.

Find out more about the #MeToo Movement.

Find out more about the Essex Book Festival 2019.