60 Seconds With…Sue Kennedy

60 Seconds with… Sue Kennedy

I am a PhD candidate at Hull University barely one year in to a cross-disciplinary thesis with the working title ‘Excavating the Roots of Second-wave Feminism in British Women’s Writing of the long 1950s’.  In my former life I was a primary school headteacher. After retiring I embarked upon another challenging and equally hazardous path, doing a Masters in Modern and Contemporary Literature. My research is at heart literary, but the history of the mid-century forms an important thread; in fact I may become an ‘accidental historian’.

Who would you invite to your fantasy feminist dinner party?

Virginia Woolf, Nell Dunn, Mary Wollstonecraft, Angela Davies, Lorna Sage, Annie Lennox, Winifred Holtby, Yoko Ono, Elizabeth Taylor, Tillie Olsen, Julia Margaret Cameron

Oh no! You’re stranded on a desert island. Which feminist history book do you save from the waves?

Vera Britten’s A Testament of Friendship. But the earliest books I read which resonated with what I was feeling were Doris Lessing’s ‘The Children of Violence’ series, so I’d like to save those, too, though not strictly history.

If you could time-travel to observe one moment in the history of feminism, where would you go?

I’d like to have been at the 1912 Window-Breaking March by the Suffragettes, not just to unleash my inner hooligan but to feel the conviction, emotion and solidarity that drove women to such lengths. If the time machine can’t get that far back I’d like to re-visit the march for abortion on demand in London in 1972, where that great feeling of sisterhood was also present.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Depends which career! In my brief association with the ‘academy’ I was chuffed to be accepted to present at the conference in March 2013 at Queen Mary on ‘Feminism, Influence, Inheritance’. For my first effort I gave a paper on ‘Abortion: Mid-twentieth Century Woman’s Dilemma’ in literature of the time. The range of other papers there was an eye-opener and I met new and interesting people.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

I don’t really feel qualified to offer advice to young people starting off in this strange world but controlling social media distractions might be a challenge.

How did you come to your current area of research?

It followed on from my dissertation research which covered literature written by women with female protagonists around sex, abortion, and motherhood in the decade between1957-1967, just before the explosion of the second wave. I wanted to look further back to the period from the tail end of the war and discover women’s writing that showed the green shoots of feminism in a period that has been falsely labelled as dormant. Some of the authors I am studying include Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Rose Macaulay, Betty Miller, Stella Gibbons… but it’s early days yet so who knows?

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Mary McCarthy’s The Group; have read it (well actually listened to it in the car on long drives!); Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber; half read for fairy tale connection in Elizabeth Taylor’s The Sleeping Beauty. I’m currently reading The Romance of a Shop (1888) by Amy Levy.

A couple of fascinating books lying on the floor are; A Monkey amongst the Crocodiles, about Georgina Weldon, a ‘Victorian eccentric’, and Class Porn by Molly Hite (1987). Amazing what charity shops throw up!

Be honest; how long has it been there?

Well, have been dipping into the Carter for 2/3 weeks. Amy Levy is newish. The others are in abeyance…something to look forward to.

Thank you, Sue!