International Women’s Day
Words and Women curate a week of creative action

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. To mark this event, Words and Women has curated a week of creative action which ties in with the launch of their fourth writing anthology, Words and Women: Four. Below, W&W organiser Belona Greenwood describes what’s in store and how you can get involved.

Red umbrellas, loose text, logos, and a pint of pvc, white boxes, missing bios, wandering programmes, tight deadline for book orders, more text pressed onto vinyl, plastic or glass? Fruit Juice, Wine, Beer, Water? Too groovy Fem(ale)? Timelines, schedules, endless emails, train times, risk assessments, social media, insurance, art, picture frames, flyers in hand, posters on watering hole walls and literary haunts, a countdown of tasks. The peculiarly knotty problem of creating stencils when hours are shaved off night and day. Lists extend. It is that month, then that week and then it is today.

It is our latest Words and Women celebration of International Women’s Day and the launch of our fourth anthology, Words and Women: Four. This time it is a week of happenings. We like to vary what we do. Last year we marked our fifth anniversary with a sell-out night at Norwich Arts Centre with readings from winners of our annual competition featured in our anthology published by Unthank Books. Louisa Theobald, a brilliantly funny and observant compere, introduced not only last year’s winning writers but music so powerful from Sink Ya Teeth, Emily Winng and Sargasso Trio followed by the incomparable Karen Reilly and the Neutrinos that we knew this year had to be entirely different. Last year was a rich anniversary, it felt golden, honestly, and it was BIG. This year had to be completely different. We turned on our pinhead and came up with City of Women, a week of Book, Print, Art and Voice.

It is also a year of many collaborations. This is what we can sometimes do through Words and Women – draw in other creatives to help celebrate and launch a book – and it feels so good. We habitually try to claim a bit more public space for women and in commissioning new work where we can. This year, we approached Print to the People, the Norwich-based print collective to create original artwork in response to the national and regional prize winning stories – Deborah Arnander’s complex short story ‘The Wife’, winner of our new national prize for women over 40, and Melissa Fu’s elegiac non-fiction piece Suite for My Father, which won our regional award. Nunns Yard Gallery on St. Augustine’s Street is now under occupation for a week. The work is up. Images inspired by story…even the exhibition title ‘These Stories are like Paths’ has been hooked neatly out of Deborah’s fictional telling, and neatly leads us from the gallery to 13A, a small shopfront additional exhibition space just down the road. In here, local artist Clare Jarrett, is creating an installation over seven days, inspired by all those words spilling out from the pages of our anthology.

We habitually try to claim a bit more public space for women

We still needed to mark International Women’s Day. And since our audience was spread over a week and our launch event with Naomi Wood (this year’s guest judge) was ticketed with a limit on entry, we needed something spectacular for the day itself. Not only that but something uplifting in these politically and socially darkening days.  That’s where the umbrellas come in.

We decided to busk inspirational words written by women around the city centre. Triggered by Michelle Obama’s exhortation – ‘when they go low, we go high’ – this part of a week of happenings had its own title too… ‘Going High.’ Enter our next collaboration, this time with Chalk Circle Theatre Company and my insomniac wrestling with stencils and black paint.

We found a range of women, happy to read on the street, all the texts, personally selected, personally meaningful. For strong visual impact and the staging of an arresting and moving spectacle, we called on Adina Levay, artistic director of Chalk Circle Theatre Company.

Next came the red umbrellas, women dressed in black, and a schedule of appearances. We could reach out. It plays on protest. It is protest to put good strong words onto the street.

We hope that many will stop and listen as they shop, work, and walk through the centre of Norwich. We have the city that does different to thank for its support and we will be collecting for ECPAT UK, a charity campaigning against child-trafficking and transnational child exploitation.

To us, 12 noon has become a magic hour. At that time, all week something happens in the gallery too, a reading or a workshop from Print to the People, (making badges of inspirational women), and so ‘Going High’ begins with a phalanx of women in black, outside the Forum as the clock strikes.

It is protest to put good strong words onto the street.

The exhibition, ‘These Stories Are Like Paths’, is named after a line in ‘The Wife’. Open from 11am – 4.30pm every day, there will be a reading of a story from the anthology at 12 noon on the 7, 9 and 10 March. On Wednesday 8 March Print to the People will host a drop-in workshop, free to all, and on Saturday, 11th March, artist Clare Jarrett will talk about the process of creating an installation in Gallery 13A, close to Nunns Yard, over the week, inspired by the two winning stories.

Finally, on Friday 10 March between 6-8 pm, Words and Women launch their latest anthology published by Unthank Books.  Our compere, Guardian award-winning stand up Louisa Theobald will introduce readings by Deborah Arnander, Melissa Fu, Kate Harmond Allan, Anna Metcalfe and Marianne Picton. This year’s guest judge Naomi Wood, author of The Godless Boys and Mrs. Hemingway, will talk about judging the prose competition and selecting the stories for the anthology. It is an Eventbrite ticket-only but a fabulous night with a strong slate of voices, and a donations bar provided by Fem-Ales.

About Words and Women

Words and Women is a voluntary organisation set up and run by Belona Greenwood and Lynne Bryan. It is a showcase for women writers who live in the East of England, or nationally over 40, at all stages of their professional careers in an annual celebration of regional creativity on International Women’s Day, and through commissioning opportunities and an annual new writing prize.

Words and Women has twice been shortlisted for the national Saboteur Awards and, this year for the second time, Words and Women were runners up in the Women in Publishing award for ‘pioneering venture.’


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