This Burns Night, consider celebrating Virginia Woolf instead

Kaite Welsh in The Guardian:

Woolfell around the world, haggis is being toasted, bagpipes being piped and neeps and tatties roasted as poetry lovers in Scotland and elsewhere – as well as anyone looking for an excuse to pour a generous dram of whisky – celebrate Thursday’s birthday of Robert Burns, a candidate for the #MeToo movement if ever there was one. Behind every celebration of a great man lies a woman who could be equally venerated, but usually isn’t. Virginia Woolf, whose contribution to and influence on literature has been immense, was born on the same day as Ayrshire’s favourite son – yet year after year, no one shows up to her party. The past decade alone has seen big anniversaries for Shakespeare, Martin Luther, Charles Dickens and Anthony Burgess, chock-full of biographies, documentaries and public talks. This February sees celebrations for the centenary of that staple of Edinburgh literature, Muriel Spark (although she lived the bulk of her adult life in Tuscany), and Emily Brontë’s bicentenary is due in July.

But women’s writing is valued differently – that is, less – and the public attention (and public money) spent on celebrating it misses an opportunity to do something truly radical and get people thinking about literature and who produces it in a different way. These celebrations could be used not just to celebrate the work of well-known writers but to bring the lesser-known ones to light. Give us Aphra Behn or Radclyffe Hall if you want historical figures, or celebrate the likes of Jackie Kay and Liz Lochhead while they’re still around to appreciate it. als have taken to reading work only by women or writers of colour; efforts that do, in a small way, tackle the prejudices underpinning what is published, reviewed and read in the UK. But when literary history is whitewashed to erase or minimise women’s contributions, except for the occasional centenary celebration, this is a gesture tantamount to fighting fire with a water pistol.

Of course, Burns Night isn’t solely about Burns, and suggesting that we spend even one 25 January celebrating the work of a queer woman with mental illness over one of Scotland’s biggest exports is guaranteed to get some people frothing at the mouth.

More here.