#GrrrlCon: Amina Shah: “Reading is about empowerment.”

grrrlconThe first Grrrl Con was brought to a close by Amina Shah, Director of Programme at the Scottish Book Trust. She has 20 years experience working across the book world, with a strong focus on libraries, though she notes her focus has been on “books, readers and writers and bringing it all together.”

”Reading is about empowerment.”
Ultimately, for many women, they’re not beginning at the same starting point. Many authors in history had to get up at 5am to write and then look after the kids, or pick up menial tasks for their husbands (like putting toothpaste on their toothbrush to save his precious writing seconds) so they could have more time to focus. We don’t have people shuffling around doing things like that for us – often we can be struggling not just around writing, but responsibility too.

“You have to act as though it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time” – it’s a quote Jamie Byng of Canongate tweeted at the weekend, and she believes it’s a nice notion. Even if women can do things, lots of women don’t have voices. Act to make sure everyone has a voice, or all will be coming from the same side. For example, without Jane Austen back in her day, experiences of the time would only really be known through history books. She’s illuminated that era by using her voice.

Amina has loved being able to work with people on writing from different backgrounds, and believes that equality of access to books and reading is key. The Scottish Book Trust works on literacy from pretty much cradle to grave. “It should belong to everyone,” she says. “Reading is about empowerment. We’re never going to build readers and writers unless we start early.”

One in five children are in poverty – there’s so much inequality even by the time they get to school. Language and literacy are the absolute key. The First Minister has a reading challenge to encourage this – she herself says that reading and access to books changed her life.

It’s vital for everyone to have access.
As Grrrl Con runs this weekend, the Scottish Book Trust are also running Story Con, an event for teenagers. Young people are just as interested in these things, and they offer opportunities where they can get mentors and go on a retreat. It’s an amazing thing for them to be able to identify themselves as a writer that young, and their weekend-long conference is the culmination in the Trust’s latest push to support young people.

They host labs – an upcoming one is on marketing – have advice and resources, run 50 word fiction competitions, and have plenty of opportunities including their New Writer Awards. They’re also scoping out new ideas, currently looking at opportunities for BAME communities. They keep looking to grow what they offer and expand their support – as she said, it’s vital for all to have access to what they do. You can find out more about them on their website.

On top of an overview of the brilliant work the Scottish Book Trust do for writers and many more, Amina ends with a quote from Gertrude Stein: “You are extraordinary within your limits, but your limits are extraordinary.”

More posts from Grrrl Con.

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