How focusing the conversation solely on women writers extends the need for intersectionality in contemporary literature.
By Carley Tacker
Photo by Kimberly Murray
The Reading Women podcast, founded in June 2016, features the voices of Kendra Winchester, a freelance writer and editor, and Autumn Privett, a writer and strategist for a management consulting firm. Their motto—“where we reclaim half the bookshelf”— discusses books written by or about women. Only a year after launching their podcast, Winchester and Privett have been featured in both Bustle and Book Riot’s top lists for literary and feminist podcasts. And they’re just getting started.
Their focus on books written by and about women has always been intentional. In 2012 when Privett and Winchester were studying literature in Greenville, S.C., they bonded over books. During that time, the two recognized that although they were seeking advanced degrees in literature, their syllabi did not offer dynamic reading lists—they featured authors skewed heavily white, dead and male.
To this end, they turned to each other, and what started as a hopeful joke is now a vibrant, effective podcast that has grown to feature such revolutionary and brilliant voices like Stephanie Powell Watts, Ayobami Adebayo and national book award finalist Min Jin Lee.
“The white male perspective is considered the default,” says Privett. “We would like to influence that and help bring previously unrecognized and underrepresented women writers to people’s awareness.”
Throughout their roughly 35-minute podcast, Privett and Winchester showcase a variety of content from book recommendations to interviews with influential authors and themed months (October highlighted women who write mystery) that capture the dynamic perspective of female-centric voices in contemporary literature across every genre.
They stress that while their podcast features only women writers, these are books that everyone should be reading.
Carley Tacker: You highlight something so important in your podcast, and it’s something I don’t see enough of in the book community—diversity. Is diversity simply a side effect of focusing on the voices of women specifically or is it intentional?
Kendra Winchester: It’s very intentional. We intentionally pay attention to our percentages. My preference would be 30 to 40 percent diversity [in reading] across race, sexuality and class. We also include regional diversity. [Privett] and I are both from rural areas, so we look for stories from the mountains and other areas as well. If you just read whatever, then you would read mostly white people—mostly dudes.
Autumn Privett: When I look back at my book lists from before we started this podcast, this just feels like how the book world is: If you just read whatever is put in front of you, you’d end up reading the same stuff. I think it’s getting better, but it’s hard to say. We’re very intentional. That’s the short answer.
CT: I think it’s great that you two include diverse writers in regard to class, too. That’s something I would have never have thought to include in my intentional reading list.
AP: Early on this process, I turned to [Wincheseter] and said, “So help me, if I read another book about upper middle class white kids in New York City, I’m going to punch somebody.” I was so infuriated. I was reading the best of the summer and was like “Look! We all don’t have SoHo apartments. Get over yourself.” That’s something I think we do try to include is diversity and class.
KW: Something in particular I’m looking for as well is people with various kinds of disabilities, whether it be mental health or disfigurements or just a chronic illness. There’s just a lot of intersectionality needed. Something I studied in grad school was the Axes of Oppression—the idea that there are a lot of different facets that we all have and can interact with and that they all layer on top of each other. It can be overwhelming, but it’s very important. So I’ve been tracking my reading with all of those this year.
CT: What’s been your biggest challenge with the podcast?
AP: I think for us, making sure that we don’t get lazy. It’s really easy to just go and read what everyone else is reading. A lot of times we read books that don’t make it onto the podcast. That’s still time that we’ve spent reading and researching and deciding that it doesn’t quite fit our standard and what we’re trying to do. Intentionality is hard and we try to be very intentional in our message.
KW: I think for me it’s balancing life and balancing the podcast. Having us both functional at the same time is hard. We’re always trying to better ourselves and always trying to make everything on the podcast better each time. That’s been our goal. We’re very organized and want consistency.
CT: What are some of your favorite podcasts that you listen to in your “abundant free time”?
AP: The only podcast I listen to anymore—and this is so stereotypical—is This American Life. I know, I know, really I know, but the truth of the matter is, the storytelling on there is always the best. And that was the podcast that got me interested in podcasts. Another podcast I listen to is the New Yorker’s Fiction podcast with Deborah Treisman. I’d say those are the only two that I really listen to anymore.
KW: That’s not fair, [Privett]. You got me onto them, and now I listen to—I have to say—about 20. There Goes the Neighborhood and Nancy (an LGBT+ podcast) have a lot of non-book related discussions and cover interesting issues.
CT: What does the concept of the Reading Women podcast mean to you? What do you hope for this podcast to do for people and not just women?
KW: For me, I love prizes. I think they take the temperature of the literary community. You want to see what people they are valuing and the voices they are valuing. And I would just like to see more women win awards and be recognized—especially women of color. Maybe that’s not directly from us, but adding our voice and our awareness to that conversation is what I want. I also just want more women to win. That would be great.
AP: It’s everything [Wincheseter] said plus our mission statement: Reclaiming half the bookshelf. I assumed, growing up as a voracious reader, that women weren’t writing books because those weren’t the books that were available to me. I actually never questioned it. The white male perspective is considered the default, and we would like to influence that and help bring previously unrecognized and underrepresented women writers to people’s awareness.
CT: What’s next for you?
KW: We’re trying to make our categories broader so that we can include more books from a wider range of genres. We plan on doing a Black history themed month this year. [This month] we have merchandise and sponsors planned. It’s really exciting. We’re not a business with backers and investors. We’re just two people doing this thing and learning.
AP: We’re also always trying to fill in the gaps and look at what we’ve read and fill it with more things that we haven’t yet talked about. We’re looking to continue to build and connect with people and [make] sure people know that our podcast is not just for women. It’s called Reading Women because we are both women who read and who are reading women. We think these books are books that all people should be reading.
Carley Tacker is a writer and professional writing consultant based in Denver. She is also a senior fiction editor for the University of Colorado Denver’s literary journal, Copper Nickel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for all things podcast, literary or food related @chesstack.