My 2017 was saved by these amazing women
Heather Price looks back at the comedians, writers and singers who gave her hope at a bleak time
For the last year, I’ve been tired. Perhaps that’s been the case for most of us. The enormity of the world’s weight bearing down on us like some sort of medieval press.
Trump. Brexit. Grenfell. Sexual harassment. Terrorism. Death, in all its forms.
Yet 2017 has also been a year of immense creativity, with many creative outlets to escape, or rather better explain, the world we’re currently in. I’ve decided to reflect on my favourite women and their work, and declare my continuing love for them – without their contributions to 2017, last year would’ve been a complete write-off…
Clearly, Susan Calman is the woman of the year here. I’ve loved her BBC Radio Four series Keep Calman And Carry On, her live stand up, and her daytime TV series Armchair Detectives, much to my wife’s disapproval (she’s just jealous because I always guess right whodunit). Everything about Susan makes me ridiculously happy. She’s a real homing beacon for difference, and beyond her genius comedy she’s a very clever storyteller - her hilarious life experiences are definitely worth listening to.
If you’ve not seen Tig Notaro’s Amazon series One Mississippi then you need to reserve a Sunday for bingeing both seasons. It’s not your typical sitcom, because it’s dry, witty and relaxed, just like Tig herself. For queer folk who grew up in the sticks, where everyone knows everyone, this will comfort and empower. Her show tells us what is and isn’t worth worrying about. If you’ve heard about her cancer, and watched her perform topless (to completely normalise mastectomy scars), then you already know how profoundly carefree she often is.
I love a good travel documentary, but especially one by our Sue Perkins. After her epic journey along the Mekong River, this year we were treated to Sue’s childish and clever humour as she travelled down the Ganges. She always gets the stories from those on the peripheries of society, bringing them into the spotlight for a jolly good time. I adore her.
I was lucky enough to hear Jeanette Winterson in conversation with acclaimed writer Rebecca Solnit at the Manchester Literature Festival. We’re currently going through an important movement, where women are coming out in droves to fight sexual harassment, so Winterson and Solnit’s passionate dialogue made for a very cathartic evening. Winterson has that particular bite that I love.
That night, my wife and I asked Jeanette Winterson and Susie Orbach if they wanted a lift to the train station. I thought they’d think us weird. They said yes. Winterson’s enthusiasm made me swoon. Orbach’s work is essential. Our car is now sacred.
On 5 December Jackie Kay and Ali Smith closed the Manchester Literature Festival in the most resplendent way. Kay’s poetry stood alone, speaking for itself in that way words do when they’re so insightful and commanding. Kay reminded us that “Planet Farage” used to be quite funny. Now, not so much. Post-everything, there’s very little that can be taken lightly. Yet it’s hard not to feel light in her presence, because she’s one of the loveliest and funniest women I’ve ever heard.
Ali Smith read extracts from Winter, the second instalment in a seasonal novel quartet. Autumn, dubbed the first Brexit novel, explores time in all its beauty and cruelty, while Winter forces us to confront death and survival in a post-truth society. Smith reads as though she’s celebrating every word that exists, and so flawlessly, but Smith is famous for her playful way with words. A few years back, during an academic conference, Smith gave me a few words of wisdom, and because I have the memory of a sieve I’ve forgotten them, but the remembering of them happening was enough to make an impact.
Over Christmas I read Mary Beard’s Women And Power, a short manifesto that manages to cover the silencing of women from its ancient roots to the present day. You can never be done arguing the case, but Beard successfully fits it into 115 pages. Basically, it’s the feminist version of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time. The silencing of women, and the silencing of women in writing is both fascinating and infuriating, and Beard’s argument that classical texts potentially set the precedent for how and why women’s voices are suppressed is convincing. Women and Power is an easy and accessible read, but the topic is a heavy reminder of how much further we have to go. Ah, time. We have it, right?
2017 has thrown out some great music, but everyone in the office has only heard me rave about Alison Moyet. Moyet’s album Other was released in June, and since then, it’s been the soundtrack to my year. I Germinate is a track that forces you to embrace your otherness, and is incredible live. Her world tour was accompanied by a brilliant blog. Alison, like Ali Smith, has a real way with words and I really hope she’ll write a book one day.
That’s what has saved me from this particularly grim year – women with confidence. Women who have been assertive, brave, unapologetic. Showing off. Fighting back. There was a moment during Kay and Smith’s in-conversation where they reached out to each other and held hands. For a moment, I imagined that’s what it must have been like during the seventies. More connection. More conversation. More critical thinking.
So here’s to 2018, in hope for more of that to come.
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