Some of the most popular classics were written by women under pseudonyms. This weekend, author and Shakespeare nerd Karishma Attari will discuss that and more.
Shakespeare’s identity has been questioned time and again, which has led to the ‘Shakespeare authorship question’ — the argument that someone else is the writer of all the works attributed to him. Conspiracy theories abound, and one of them proposes that Shakespeare was actually a pen name for a London-based Jewish woman, Amelia Bassano.
Bandra-based author Karishma Attari (37), known for her Shakespeare for Dummies series of workshops, in which she demystifies the Bard, says, “His writing is fairly gender-neutral in that he was interested in all things, royal or domestic. He gave us intriguing characters of both the sexes.”
This weekend, Attari will discuss the role of women writers in literature, and the challenges thrown their way across history, with fellow author Meghna Pant, at the TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) Literature Festival. Attari’s first novel, I See You, a young adult horror novel, was published in 2015. Its sequel, Don’t Look Down, was released last year. She says, “I didn’t have male writers to displace, nor is horror a genre that belongs exclusively to men. Writers like Anne Radcliffe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley were at the forefront because they wrote horror novels, and developed a way of thinking about the genre, while it was still new.”
While Attari didn’t face any discrimination, women writers in past haven’t been as fortunate. Many were rejected by publishers because of sexism. Even in the post-Jane Austen era, the Brontë sisters had to use male pen names. In more recent times, JK Rowling’s publishers asked her to use initials, citing that young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman. “Discrimination and sexism are rampant, and it goes back to the way women writers are pigeonholed as somehow talking about romantic or domestic issues. These are not valued on the same level as male concerns and considered somehow secondary,” she says.
In the recent past, several classic Disney stories have come under fire for propagating gender roles. Even Bollywood movies are now being criticised for not having enough powerful female characters. “Just this month, I watched a puppet show based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute at a local library and it amazed me how deadening and normal the stereotypes were, to a room full of kids: the prince is valiant, the princess is beautiful, and their jobs are to rescue and be rescued, respectively,” Attari says.
To ensure her own characters break away from stereotypes, she writes several drafts of her novels. In the series, the protagonist Alia has a boyfriend, Sid, and a best friend named Chris. “Both the boys will do anything for her but I had to make sure she grew in confidence and did her own rescuing,” she says.
What: Karishma Attari will be in conversation with Meghna Pant at TISS Literature Festival on January 28, 4 pm
Where: Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar