Doubtful About Doulas?
The Matera Women’s Fiction Festival in Italy includes an international writers conference. The conference was on hiatus last year. A lot of us were glad when the event’s longtime (tireless) driver Elizabeth Jennings and her fine associates including Rebecca Riches and Maria Teresa Cascino were able to get it back onto the calendar this year, in late September.
The conference’s programming was even better filled out than in the past and included its traditional one-on-one sessions with speakers. I enjoy those because they give me a chance to meet attendees. Jennings and her administration provide simultaneous translation in English and Italian (and a translator at the table when I meet with an Italian speaker in a one-on-one).
And while it’s set in the context of the Women’s Fiction Festival, this is a good event for guys to attend, too. Nothing being offered at the conference won’t help male writers as well as women, don’t let that scare you off if you’re a man and thinking about going in the future.
In walking into the Fondazione Le Monacelle with Jennings just before I spoke, she mentioned to me that a topic of interest this year at the event was the concept of the “book doula.”
Part of the interest had been sparked by Olga Mecking’s writeup in London at The Guardian about doulas earlier last month.
And if you’re feeling hesitant about all this, doula Ariane Conrad’s site won’t do a lot to make you feel better. She’s all in. Although she’s doing this for nonfiction, it could just as easily be fiction, and she’s talking “bookbirthing” (one word).
Some of her descriptive copy will put off anyone but your Kumbaya-singing aunt. Such as:
“You will probably make me cry…in a good way. We will probably crack each other up. I will tell you when there is spinach in your teeth. We will probably become lifelong friends.”
“We might plan a week-long retreat to refine the concept, draft an outline, or power through some writing. We might schedule weekly Skype meetings to keep you buoyant and productive. If cajoling doesn’t work, I will be stern about deadlines.”
And here’s a ghostly line:
“You might ask me to write a draft that you can make your own. I might interview you and shape a strong, consistent narrative from the material. I will probably do background research, editing, proofing.”
As much as I do to encourage and promote professionalism in writing–because I want the industry to have to respond with its most professional service and support for its authors–I’m skeptical of this.
For one thing, I worry that there’s an unintended sexism in this metaphoric conflation of childbirth and writing, a suggestion that women might need special help from a literary midwife. Perhaps that’s too strong a reaction. But I can’t see a guy heading out for a retreat with his doula, can you? Am I knee-jerking? Okay, a lot of us are super-sensitized to the sexism ingrained in our culture right now.
But if we put aside the gender question (how about a “book mechanic” for the guys?–shoot me now) what sort of need is being answered here, even ostensibly?