The Lucy Writers’ Platform
by Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou on 28 February 2018
Currently PhD student at University College London
Very few think of Mary Wollstonecraft as one of the first female journalists. Known today as the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), a revolutionary polemic calling for better educational rights for women, Wollstonecraft’s career as a reviewer is rarely recognised or granted the scholarly attention it deserves. Beginning in 1788, the year her first philosophical novel was published, her journalistic output spanned the whole of her lifetime and essentially fuelled, enriched and informed her literary writing. Working for the Analytical Review, a cosmopolitan magazine created by the radical publisher Joseph Johnson and his friend Thomas Christie, Wollstonecraft reviewed – and often with unapologetic acerbity – the latest sentimental novels, scientific treatises, romantic poetry and devotional literature from across the continent. She wrote on some of the best writers and thinkers of the day, such as Charlotte Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Richard Price and Emmanuel Swedenborg. She learned new languages to improve her journalism, in particular German, French and a smattering of Italian. She gained new writerly projects through her reviews and editing, such as translating works by France’s ex-finance minister, Jacques Necker, and the Swedish physiognomist Johann Caspar Lavater. And, perhaps most impressively, she held her own as one of the few women working in an all-male editorial team. Journalism earned Wollstonecraft more than her bread and butter; it bought her more than new furniture for her poky quarters on Store Street, Bloomsbury. It gave her an education, a training ground from which to learn and test out new ideas; to acquire and play with new words; to know and be known amongst new writers. I would even go so far as to say that without those formative years of journalism, her Rights of Woman would never have been written.
So why have I dedicated the opening paragraph to Wollstonecraft and her little known stint as a reviewer? Why go back as far as the eighteenth century when I should be introducing an important journalistic/ creative writing project for our current Lucy alumna and students? Apart from being a researcher of Wollstonecraft, I see her as one of the earliest examples of how journalism often leads to bigger artistic opportunities and, more importantly, greater cultural and political change. I see in her career a long line of female writers – from Eliot to Woolf to Gellhorn to Carter to Didion – who chose to write themselves into being; who chose to challenge their own views and those of their readership by putting pen to paper and, much in the vein of Wollstonecraft, relearning their art, as if for the first time, with every drafted article. I see the nineteenth-century journalist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, causing ripples in the early civil rights movement with every printed column and headline. I see Susan Sontag, typing reviews late at night, cigarette in hand, before her iconic essays and stories were even dreamt up. I see so many of my favourite contemporary writers – Olivia Laing, Rebecca Solnit, Zadie Smith – who either began writing comment pieces before the critical acclaim set in or turned to do so after, ever desirous of an alternative space to think, learn and speak anew. And I see the struggling, though no less talented, writers that surround me today; women in classrooms, in offices, on the streets, in their parents’ house, sleeping on sofas or barely sleeping at all, in a bid to write, to transfer their personal experiences to paper, to dislodge feelings from the heart and thoughts from the mind so as to crystallise both in words.
And I see the Lucy Writers’ Platform, an alumnae-led and alumnae-created online project that wants to support such talent from our international community. The LWP website will be an inclusive, encouraging, nurturing space for emerging or developing writers and creatives. We believe that Lucy, much like the potted timeline of journalists-come-authors mentioned above, has its own growing tradition of literary and journalistic endeavour. From the witty Lucely Speaking to the excellent Cavendish Chronicle, helmed wonderfully by Hollie Wells this year; to the inspiring Alumnae newsletter, Nautilus, edited by Judith Roberts, to the recently established Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, our college recognises the importance of writers within and without the university environment; our college supports literary, as well as academic endeavours, and the social importance of both. In this spirit, the LWP will extend this community and legacy, in order to provide new opportunities for writers to be heard, supported and valued. We welcome the aspiring Gellhorns, Carters and Didions; the budding science, history and arts journalists amongst us; the amateur poets and illustrators; photographers and editors. Whether you want to write for fun or change the political agenda a la Wollstonecraft, the Lucy Writers’ Platform wants to hear from you; we want to be that unique space, that ‘training ground’, where you rethink, relearn and rewrite afresh.
Lucy Writers' Platform will launch in Autumn 2018, at the Alumnae Festival weekend.
Please direct all inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org