Elizabeth Greene is a champion for women writers

Former Queen's prof takes part in International Women's Day event

Inanna authors at Novel Idea for International Women's Day event.

Ever since 1969, Elizabeth Greene has been amplifying women’s voices in literature.

Last Saturday, on March 7, Greene and four other authors from Inanna—a Toronto-based publisher of women’s
writing—gathered at Novel Idea to read their latest work and answer questions.

The event was specifically designed to celebrate both the recent work coming out of the publishing house and International Women’s Day. Greene spoke with The Journal before the event to discuss what she planned to read, what she’s been working on lately, and to express her admiration for her fellow women writers at Inanna.

Hannah Brown, Lisa de Nikolits, Kate Kelly, Ursula Pflug, and Greene read their work and answered questions from the small crowd that stopped into the local book store on Princess St.

Greene read from her book, The Dowager Empress, which was released last September. The book is a collection of poems written by Adele Wiseman, who Greene praised as a brilliant writer. Greene’s The Dowager Empress is an example of how she consistently supports other women’s voices. It’s also a testament to how important publishing houses and events like this reading at Novel Idea are for women in literature.

From 1969 to 1998, Greene taught at Queen’s. Then she came again from 2003 to 2007 to teach as an adjunct professor. During her time here, she started three courses focusing on women writers.

One of the courses she started was “Contemporary Canadian Women Writers,” which has not survived through the years. In this course, Adele Wiseman was one of many women whose work Greene assigned to her students. Others included Margaret Lawrence, Margaret Atwood, and Gwendolyn MacEwan. “Selected Women Writers Post-1900” has survived, and is being taught online to this day.

Greene says that as a teacher, she tried to give her students many different opportunities to write and explore their own voices. She said that’s one thing that isn’t stressed enough in English courses.

“They should be finding their own voices and they should write whatever they want to write,” Greene said in an interview.

It’s clear in the way she talks about her former students that Greene truly cared about their voice and opinions. She wanted them to know about the lives and struggles of past writers and to be encouraged to pursue careers in writing themselves. It’s because of one student in particular that Greene was able to publish this collection of Wiseman’s poetry.

For a long time, Wiseman’s poetry hasn’t been accessible to writers and editors who wanted to put together a collection of her work. Wiseman’s literary executor is her daughter, Tamara, who was in her early twenties when her mother died.

“That’s a huge responsibility to have when you’re not quite 24,” Greene said. “She’s been very, very worried about letting anyone work on her mother’s work.”

Greene understood Tamara’s desire to protect her mother’s work and preserve her voice and her intention. This is where one of Greene’s former students came into play.

Her former student was sitting next to Wiseman’s daughter on a plane and one of Wiseman’s books, Crackpot, fell out of the student’s suitcase. Tamara saw this and sparked up a conversation with the former student, telling them that her mother was the author of that book. When the student told Tamara about Greene’s course and her appreciation for Wiseman’s work, Tamara felt reassured that her mother’s work would be safe in Greene’s hands.

“I love Adele’s writing because it’s very honest. It’s very unassuming and it’s often very funny,” Greene said.

At the event, Greene didn’t want to read too much. Instead, she wanted to give the floor to the other women coming from out of town for the event.

For more than four decades now, Greene has been doing just this: paving the way for future women writers.


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