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Feminists and the spoken word

Right now, around the virtual table, we are hearing voices. At the tables we have hosted, the recording of oral histories has been a clear shared interest, often expressed as a priority. In many ways conversation is a female form — yet, as Julie Shapiro notes on the radio workshop site Transom, there are far fewer female than male podcast hosts. Transom itself is a very useful site — hosting stories about radio stories, workshop practices and advice on recording — as well as opinion pieces. Shapiro searches for the female hosted shows she likes, and posts links at the bottom of her piece. Transom is American but several of her links are British, including Sound Women, a growing network dedicated to raising the profile of women in the audio world. I had never come across Sound Women but love it — not only for the work it does, but for the way it does it. As we have held Tables around the country, the way in which women artists are practicing collaboration and devising ways to connect is remarkable — and so it is also interesting that fewer, many fewer, women are hosting podcasts. Yet the history of women’s interest in spoken word, and our contribution to its history, is huge. As early as 1952, two American college graduates, Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Roney, began the legendary Caedmon records, working with the spoken word through recording artists themselves reading their own works, mostly men I have to say, and beginning with Dylan Thomas. I came across Caedmon through sound woman Sarah Parry, who wrote an article on Caedmon Records for Performance Research’s On Editing issue (Vol. 7 number 1), and went on to write several more articles about the history of sound recording and sound environments for the journal. I recorded a podcast interview with her for MIT  on the history of artists’ recordings. In London, artist Cathy Lane, who also teaches sound art at the London College of Communication, has been drawing attention to women in sound and spoken word through books, events and exhibitions, including the 2012 Her Noise. She makes her own work, curates, and in 2008 published Playing with Words: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice. London based curator and historian Susan Croft has been archiving feminist performance, often silenced practices, for many years, first in her inventory of feminist theatre writing She also Wrote Plays, and now, with Jessica Higgs, in her recording project Unfinished Histories, a growing oral history of experimental theatre which is also extremely favorable to the history of women’s and feminist practice without being exclusively women focused.

Claire MacDonald (May 2013)

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