There’s a volume on my theatre book shelves that is well thumbed and highly annotated: The Women Writers’ Handbook. Published by Aurora Metro in 1990, this award-winning publication (it won the Pandora Award for Women in Publishing) has served me over the years as a rare and valuable creative source for women’s theatre writing and workshopping. As the Press that produced it, Aurora Metro is exceptional in its commitment to women’s playwriting within an increasingly expanding portfolio of publications that include works of fiction and non-fiction.
The publishing house, based in Richmond and founded by a group of women writers, produced their first titles collectively. Their signature theatre anthologies – Seven Plays by Women (1991) and Six Plays by Black and Asian Women Writers (1993) – were timely given that in 1994 Methuen ceased publication of their Plays by Women series. Writer and founding editor Cheryl Robson explains that the Press has since ‘published more recent plays by women than any other UK publisher’. She comments that ‘with the percentage of women playwrights having fallen since the eighties to only 17%, we renewed our commitment to publishing collected plays by women’. In 2010 that commitment resulted in an anthology of Classic Plays by Women From 1600-2000 edited by Susan Croft, opening with Paphnutius by Hrotswitha and closing with Marie Jones’ internationally acclaimed Stones in his Pockets. For those of us coming from the eighties generation of feminist theatre scholars who fought to get women’s theatre on to the syllabus and for those in our wake who deem women’s playwriting to be core rather than marginal to theatre studies, this is an important, must-have collection. In addition to the Classic Plays, the Press is also launching a contemporary anthology: Plays for Today by Women, edited by Cheryl Robson and Rebecca Gillieron. Available from May, this collection includes: Yours Abundantly by Gillian Plowman, From the Mouths of Mothers by Amanda Stuart Fisher, Welcome to Ramallah by Sonja Linden and Adah Kay, The Awkward Squad by Karin Young and For a Button by Rachel Barnett.
While there is a rich corpus of plays by women across the centuries as the Classic Plays volume attests, regrettably, as Croft’s statistics reveal, there is an enduring paucity of funded productions (surveys consulted by Croft record that in 2004 plays by women made up only 16% of work in professional theatre). A gender imbalance is also to be found in women’s fiction, a matter Aurora Press have sought to address by setting up a biennial competition for women novelists. Cheryl explains: ‘It’s called The Virginia Prize for Fiction, in honour of Virginia Woolf who published her first novel in Richmond where we are based. It’s open to any woman over 18 with an unpublished novel to enter, although the author can have had other work published before’.
On the other hand, if women in the arts interest you, look out for the Press’s new imprint: Supernova Books, launched with the publication Women Make Noise: Girl Bands from Motown to the Modern (2012). It’s already creating a ‘buzz’, Cheryl says, given the current interest in women bands like Pussy Riot. And women and film enthusiasts take note: the Press is looking for contributors to a collection on women in film, provisionally titled ‘Celluloid Ceiling’.
For all of these publications check out: http://www.aurorametro.com. And if you need more information or any advice about Aurora Metro’s publications you can contact editor Rebecca Gillieron: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy reading, writing and, we hope, women’s play producing!