Story Tellers Best Sellers

The 2nd Annual Women’s Literary Festival Brings Female Authors
to S.B.

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

For years, elementary school teacher Jennifer Adams and her
mother, retired county supervisor Gail Marshall, drove to Long
Beach every year to attend Literary Women, one of the state’s
biggest annual literature conventions. “Every year, we’d say,
‘We’ve got to bring something like this to Santa Barbara,’”said

Finally in 2006, the mother-and-daughter team launched the first
annual Santa Barbara Women’s Literary Festival (WLF). Their vision
was to reach a more diverse audience and to give voice to female
writers from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Last
year’s festival was a hands-down success, with more than 200
attendees, and speakers ranging from novelists Diana Abu-Jaber and
Ruth Ozeki to mass-market crime writer Bonnie Hearn Hill. This
year, the lineup of authors includes writers of poetry and
cookbooks, journalism and fiction. From the Indy’s own
columnist Starshine Roshell to political activist, speaker, and
writer Rebecca Walker, daughter of Alice Walker, this year’s
authors represent the best and brightest in contemporary women’s

In keeping with the festival’s mission to promote literacy,
diversity, and social justice, organizers are offering need-based
scholarships and are asking writers to speak to the cultural or
social ideas that move them to write. Though the day is dedicated
to celebrating female writers, men are welcome to attend.

“There are so many wonderful female writers out there, but
they’re not necessarily the names you see right there when you walk
into a bookstore,” Adams said. “We’re trying to represent
diversity: Whose stories have we not heard yet?”

What follows are interviews with some of this year’s visiting
authors. To read an interview with Jacqueline Winspear, author of
the best-selling Maisie Dobbs mystery series, visit The
A&E blog online at

Rebecca Walker

Rebecca_Walker.jpgIn a festival that celebrates diversity,
literacy, and social justice, Rebecca Walker is a natural
inclusion. She is the best-selling author of Black, White, and
; To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the
Face of Feminism; What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the
and the forthcoming Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood
after a Lifetime of Ambivalence.
She’s also the founder of the
Third Wave Foundation, working to empower young women and
transgender youth through organization, advocacy, and grants.

Much of your writing is very personal. How do you see
the connection between the personal and the political?
write, in many ways, to survive — emotionally, psychologically,
even physically. If my survival as a free, thinking person on this
earth isn’t political, I don’t know what is.

Your writing and activist work are inexorably connected.
For example, To Be Real is seen as a foundational work of Third
Wave feminism. What do you see as the most important components of
feminism’s third wave?
Feminism should always be about the
emancipation of human beings from ideas and ideologies that oppress
and inhibit us from reaching our full potential, and the social
transformation that can arise as a result of this emancipation. All
my work is about wrestling unhealthy ideas of self or community to
the ground in order to embrace healthier and more fulfilling

How do you see the evolution of the third wave of
I think the concept of liberation is still very
much alive, and I feel gratified that my work has contributed to
its sustenance, especially during a period in which even the idea
of freedom has been co-opted by global hyper-capitalism. On a more
basic level, I’m thrilled by the thousands, even millions, of young
women and men continuing to move toward healthier selves,
relationships, and communities through various means. Third Wave
was never about a codified movement or programmatic path toward
freedom for all women. From the beginning, it was about supporting
people in as many ways as possible to do the work they wanted to do
to change themselves and the world.  — Felicia M.

Dima Hilal

Dina_Hilal.jpgWhen WLF organizers invited Dima Hilal
to speak at this year’s festival, she agreed immediately. Aside
from wanting to support a festival that gives voice to female
writers, she likes to work toward a deadline. “I operate a little
better under pressure,” she said. “It keeps me creative, keeps me
writing.” Motivation to write is especially important for the Dana
Point resident, who has a full-time day job doing marketing for a
medical device company. It would be easy to get caught up in the
whirlwind of work, but the 30-year-old knows it’s important to
nurture the poetry that’s always at the center of her life. Hilal’s
writing often focuses on her experience as a Beirut-born Arab
American, such as last year’s libretto Raheel, and is
commonly the voice for marginalized peoples.

In what way are you an activist? Poetry in
general can be a form of activism. It’s giving voice to people who
aren’t often heard or who are more invisible. If through my work I
can humanize that aspect of my life or my people, in that sense I
think my poetry is a form of activism.

Is that why you consider writing about your culture
Yes. For example, when people think of an Arab
man, it’s going to be a frightening image for a lot of people. They
never see the Arab doctor who cares about his family. But I grew up
with such loving male figures in my life, between my uncles and my
father. So writing a poem in homage to my father, for example,
becomes political because it’s humanizing.

What about women writers? Do you think they’re still
undervalued? Is there still a need for a festival exclusively for
female writers?
Obviously, we’ve come such a tremendous
way as women, but there are areas — from literature to business to
politics — that are still very male-dominated. Women don’t have
their own place to speak and be heard. It’s important to give a
voice to people who are sometimes not given a forum to speak.
 — Molly Freedenberg

Katia Noyes

Katia_Noyes.jpgOne of the central aims of the Women’s
Literary Festival is to give voice to those who might otherwise go
unheard. Though Katia Noyes has already gained somewhat of a cult
following for her 2005 novel about a 17-year-old lesbian’s road
trip across the nation, Crashing America, her unusual
heroine and her investigations into what it means to belong make
her a welcome member of this year’s lineup. The gay daughter of a
left-wing Stanford University family, Noyes left home at age 13 to
hitchhike up and down California. Like her protagonist, she later
traveled to the Midwest, where she exploded some of her own
American stereotypes.

Tell me about Crashing America. It’s
about finding home. It’s about a restless street kid who leaves San
Francisco, ends up in the Midwest, works on a farm, steals cars,
and has a lot of adventures. It’s the opposite of a usual story
where someone from the Midwest comes to California to find
themselves. I wanted to challenge the stereotypes about red states
and blue states. When I went to the Midwest, I found Christian
punks and gay farmers — people who defied our preconceptions, our
stock characters. When I traveled through America, I had a romantic
notion about the Midwest. I was curious about what it meant to live
in a place for several generations and feel connected to the land,
but that’s not what I found — in a sense, I found more similarities
than I expected. It was interesting to find a similar sense of

Is finding similarities where you’d expect to find differences a
kind of a theme for you? I think it’s actually more like crashing
and smashing up different things next to each other and seeing what
happens — more of a dynamic relationship between opposites,
challenging conventional notions about people and culture and what
America is. Saying there exist similarities ties it up a little too

What will you be sharing with your audience at the festival? I
decided to talk about taking risks in the creative process. Just
because you’ve written a novel doesn’t mean you know a lot more
than you did before you wrote a novel, but one of the exciting
things about the process is the risks you take. For me, it was
risking saying something that matters. I think it’s important to
write about something that matters a lot to you as a person, not
just to write something with technical brilliance. I think a young
woman who is interested in adventure and not just romance is
significant. Maybe she made bad choices, but at least she was out
there having adventures, and there aren’t enough girls like that
out there in literature.   — Elizabeth Schwyzer


The Women’s Literary Festival takes place on Saturday, February
24 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort
(633 E. Cabrillo Blvd.). Admission is $60 per person and includes
author presentations, lunch, and coffee. Preregistration is
preferred, but walk-ins are welcome based on availability. For more
information on the festival and the authors, visit


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