by Rumjhum Biswas
My passion in life is to celebrate and inspire women with my writing. My passion is also to help create peace on earth. I believe that women are, at this phase in our development, the more likely and the more willing segment of our species to make peace a reality. Still, we need all the help we can get from all the men who share our dream of peace, of reverence and love for all that is sacred, who, in the words of my friend, husband, and fellow-adventurer Michael Schulte, want to make this “planet a littler saner and safer for children, pets, poets and anyone more interested in caring than in killing.” –Beate Sigriddaughter
In its tenth edition now, The Glass Woman Prize, renowned throughout the writing world, is an important international prize for woman writers . In this interview I am taking you, my readers, up close with the founder, and indeed the force behind The Glass Woman prize: Beate Sigriddaughter. A woman of many parts, Beate is a graduate of Georgetown University and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, as well as an accomplished ballroom dancer and teacher. She has won awards and accolades, including Pushcart nominations for her stories and is a member of the International Women’s Writing Guild. There is much to write about Beate and about the Glass Woman Prize , but it is all there in her website . This interview is a window into the passionate and energetic world of Beate Sigriddaughter.
Rumjhum Biswas: We know why you created the Glass Woman Prize; can you tell us what was the exact event that directly led to the creation of the Glass Woman Prize? A kind of immediate catalyst?
Beate Sigriddaughter: There was no immediate catalyst. I’d been thinking about the Glass Woman concept since spring 2004—I still have a box full of notes on a possible nonfiction book on writing in a woman’s voice. Three years later it turned into the Glass Woman Prize instead.
RB: By now you must have read hundreds of stories, and chosen so many. Which stories do you still remember and would go back to?
BS: It is easiest to remember the stories I actually got to post on the Glass Woman Prize page, whether they are winners or top contenders, and I am partial to all of them. Out of 4614 stories submitted to date, I have posted 66 so far. I’ll tell you the 6 stories that, retrospectively, still have the greatest emotional impact on me: Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz – “The Story of My Life (So Far);” Kristy Logan –”The Man from the Circus;” Sarah Evans – “How Not to Be Unfaithful;” Julie Innis – “Sanctuary;” Susan Gibb – “Wanderer;” and Marlee Cox – “Collapse.” I also remember two stories that somehow didn’t make it into my winners list—they probably should have, as they still resonate with me: Jan Haniff – “The Seagull” (which I managed to publish in the online magazine Moondance, where I was fiction editor for a while) and your own story “Tall Girl in the Rain.”
RB: Recently, flash fiction has won prizes in The Glass Woman Prize. What is your take on this form of fiction?
BS: I think flash fiction suits our age of impatience and conceptual overload very well. When well done, it is powerful. A few words. A lot of punch.
RB: Do you think flash scores over regular short fiction? What in your opinion are the challenges and opportunities in flash?
BS: I don’t prefer one over the other. On the opportunity side, flash fiction compels the reader to focus and to dwell on a single or limited scenario, i.e., it almost invites the reader to pay more attention, NOW, rather than being led by the hand in a longer piece where a reader tends to relax more and goes for a more leisurely and passive ride. The challenges? No room for fluff.
RB: Who were your earliest influences in your writing, in fiction, poetry, everything?
BS: This one is easy. Fairytales. Mythology, especially Greek and Germanic mythology. To this day, I often play with rewriting standard tales and myths, especially when it comes to the female characters.
RB: After the preliminary selections have been made, what pulls you closer to one Glass Woman Prize entry over the next?
BS: I’ve partly already answered this. I go with my gut feeling and that usually means moving toward a story that has more emotional impact on me than others. It is a very subjective thing, and I feel that the subjectivity simply cannot be avoided. I feel if a story really grabs me, there will be others who will also be grabbed by it and so I want to single it out for attention.
RB: The Glass Woman Prize is practically of women, for women and by women. However, in a general category, if you were to judge a regular short fiction award, what winning characteristics would you look for?
BS: The short, but vague answer: A story has to grab me. The longer answer: I like passion in a story, an author telling me something she or he thinks must be told. I like an authentic voice, one that doesn’t posture in a certain way, for example because it’s trendy. I also very much like compassion for the human condition in an author’s voice.
RB: How do you switch from the writing mode to an adjudicator-of-stories mode? Does it involve any conscious mental shifts?
BS: I’d have to say it’s all the same mind. No shift. It’s sometimes more relaxing to engage with something that’s already done than engaging with new, as yet uncreated stuff, that wants to be written, but both have their exciting moments. I guess it’s the shift from listening to speaking, and I’m at a loss to describe it.
RB: How do you fit in your own writing in the multiple roles that you play? When is your favourite time to write and where?
BS: Sometimes I’m petrified that my own writing is getting short shrift. Like most women I’ve been trained into an “others come first” mode, and I definitely want to keep my commitments that I have made to others, such as evaluating Glass Woman Prize entries by a certain date. That said, I try to keep commitments to myself as well. My favourite time to write is morning and early afternoon. Nights too, when the muse whispers especially urgently. My favourite place is my desk in my fourth story condo bedroom, overlooking a balcony, overlooking a piece of forest with tall trees. But in a pinch when home becomes too crowded, I happily write at the library.
RB: Describe a day in your life.
BS: I start (and later end) with a brief breathing meditation, then journal for a few pages. Next I usually go for a bicycle/jog to a trail by a saltwater inlet. That is my thinking time. Then I work on my current project till lunch time or later. Lunch usually includes playing the flute for half an hour, another kind of meditation/thinking time. Afternoons I usually read Glass Woman Prize submissions and do related administrative work, and when I get around to it, to submitting my own stuff or working on smaller projects (I have a few thousand stories begging to be told). Evenings I spend with my husband and stepson and reading. I read a lot. Once a week I go out dancing, by myself, as neither my husband nor my stepson dance—I count that as research time, incidentally, as my current large project is called “Tango” and deals with the inescapable theme of relationships between women and men.
RB: Where do you see The Glass Woman Prize after say a decade? Any plans for an anthology of Glass Woman winners and finalists?
BS: I am not sure at all. I plan to restructure the Glass Woman Prize beginning with the 11th cycle. Currently I have no income and what I have put aside for the Glass Woman Prize from past income is running out with the 11th cycle, despite adding every 10% of every small lottery win and tax return and Christmas gift. More importantly, the Glass Woman Prize is taking more and more of my time, despite many, many generous women helping me out with the reading of entries. Also, I am not 100% enamored of the competitive nature of the prize. I love honoring the winners and top contenders. I do not love the silence toward the other submitting authors (609 silences for the Ninth round which was just recently completed), but I cannot possibly engage with all of them, and yet they have offered me their writing. I know I will find some way of continuing the prize and the concept, but at the moment the future is vague. I definitely do not plan an anthology other than what I have onlined on the Glass Woman Prize page, again chiefly because of time constraints. I am currently spending upward of an hour each day on the Glass Woman Prize (which translates roughly into more than 9 ordinary 8-hour work weeks per year). I know, however, that there will be something in the future, because I want to continue honoring passionate women’s voices. I feel that making women visible and audible is part of my mission in life, and I am grateful for the joy the Glass Woman Prize and the direct and indirect results it has given me to date.
Rumjhum Biswas is a writer from Chennai. She blogs at Writers & Writerisms