Writer, researcher and feminist – Jennifer Thorpe is the perfect collegiate role model. Thorpe’s work explores topics of gender, sexuality and feminism, and she’s editor of collections such as My First Time and newly released, Feminism Is. Thorpe also explores the world of creativity and fiction with short stories, poetry and her first novel, The Peculiars. She’s also a UCT Alumnae (One of us, one of us).
As a wannabe writer interviewing a successful womxn in the industry, I had many questions – some random whilst others more insightful. So I found it fitting to gather all my scattered thoughts into a classic 20 Questions format.
Q: When do you first remember coming across the concept of feminism
Thorpe: I think probably one of the first times I heard the word was in university. I had held beliefs that said the world should be better for women throughout my adolescence, but I hadn’t really had a book to describe my thoughts or a phrase to cover the ideas I was having. When I got to university and learnt the term of feminism it was like a coming home – a deep sigh of relief that said, ‘yes, you’re right, things are not how they should be, and here’s some other people who think this too, AND they have ideas on how to fix it.’
Q: How do you deal with writer’s block?
Thorpe: I don’t get writers block very often, because so much of my writing is spurred from what’s happening in the world, and so much of that is worth writing about. But when I do feel less creative I try to do things that make me feel happy and give me space to think. So I’ll walk, read, swim, run, meditate, dance, sing, do puzzles, doodle, and try to spend time outside and time in a quiet space without a screen in front of me to allow the stuff that’s inside some room to grow.
Q: What is your number one tip to tackle the patriarchy?
Thorpe: Can I have two? The first is to find friends – find allies who you can eye roll at, discuss things with, check in with, cry with, laugh with, and who nourish you and rally you. It’s so important to remember that we’re not in this alone.
The second is to know your rights. In South Africa, we have access to amazing human rights, and it’s our responsibility to know what they are in order to demand them. So go and get yourself a Constitution and learn!
Q: Within the book, Feminism Is, it tackles a range of experiences from different writers, have you noticed a common theme throughout?
Thorpe: There are a bunch of common themes in this book – the historical silencing of women and the power so many of us now have to share our thoughts and voices, the inspiration of our mothers and grandmothers and their determination, the fact that social media makes it scary and exhilarating to be alive at the same time, the importance of being intersectional and taking into account our own privilege, the need for feminist anger and our right to that…the list goes on. For me, the most important idea is that we don’t need to agree or get along to get on with the business of making this world better for all of us.
Q: Has the market for womxn-orientated literature become more open?
Thorpe: I think at the moment there definitely seems to be a lot of really cool feminist literature coming through from the USA and the UK, and in South Africa in the past few years we’re seeing a lot of amazing womxn orientated stories coming out. Feminism Is is doing really well – it’s been out for two or so months and we’re nearly already at a second print run – so there is definitely interest out there. I don’t know whether that means the market is more open, but I hope so!
Q: What’s your most cringe-worthy experience with ‘mansplaining’?
Thorpe: Honestly, I can’t think of one. How great is that? I do work from home though, and hang out mostly with other women, so perhaps I’ve just saved myself through my lifestyle.
Q: Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?
Thorpe: Hard to say! I find it way easier to write non-fiction than fiction. I’ve been doing it for so much longer and I feel a lot surer of my ability to get a point across.
Writing fiction requires time and space and solitude, which is hard to get. But I love when it starts coming and you feel the characters start to grow and the plot start to take off. It’s honestly magical and I feel really alive and happy when I do it.
Q: What was the last thing you read?
Thorpe: The lyrics to Janelle Monae’s ‘Pynk’ – so great. Watch that video, so worth it!
Q: In your opinion does the gender bias still hold as strong as it previously did, in terms of the writing industry?
Thorpe: In 2014 I undertook a project to read only African women writers for a full year, and to blog about that. Since then I almost always end up reading women writers, because it feels right and their stories are so amazing.
The more books we buy by women writers, the more the market will see that we want to read women writers, and the more women will be encouraged to write. I don’t know what the stats are on what gets published, but I know that we have amazing women writers and that’s what I’m focusing on.
Q: If you could have supper with anyone… dead or alive … who would it be?
Thorpe: Well if it’s a supper it should be with a chef who makes yummy nourishing food. If it’s in South Africa then Karen Dudley from the Kitchen. If overseas maybe Nigella.
Q: Who is your biggest critic?
Thorpe: Me. For sure. She’s the worst!
Q: Who is your biggest supporter?
Thorpe: My inspiring family of women (Mom, Fi, Mags), my favourite life-saving WhatsApp group of girls (Kath, Liz, Sarah, Van) and my amazing husband (Sam). They are the BEST!
Q: What’s the next project you’re working on?
Thorpe: Two things – finishing my second novel, hopefully out 2019 (hold thumbs!), and a feminist podcast (hopefully out before 2019).
Q: What major challenges did you face when working on Feminism Is?
Thorpe: Working on this collection was a dream come true – to get the opportunity to work with the 30 writers who contributed their essays was amazing. I guess the major challenge was just timing – getting everyone to get their pieces in on time. It was a really rewarding process of learning.
Q: Although the books are different, did you have any similarities in writing processes with The Peculiars and Feminism Is?
Thorpe: They were really totally different processes. I wrote The Peculiars as part of my Masters in Creative Writing, and I had the benefit of all the support that comes from being in a writing group and having a supervisor. It was ultimately all down to me to get the story on the page and get it into a workable condition.
With Feminism Is I just had to spark an idea and let the other writers do the work. Sure, there was a lot of hard work in communicating, editing, and curating the essays, but I knew that these writers would produce something magic.
Follow Jen Thorpe’s journey with Feminism Is and her future projects at jen-thorpe.com.