Preparing for our Writing Retreat in France in two months, I went to Paris to scout out tours, cafes and book stores. I had the good fortune to take the Sugar and Spice literary tour with Heidi, who gives a guided walk through the glamorous Saint Germain-des-Prés district sharing secrets from the lives of influential women writers. Fuelled with salted-chocolate caramels, I heard shocking and revolutionary tales of French female writers, including ones from Colette, George Sand and Simone de Beauvoir.
I had no idea that just a few decades back it was nearly impossible to get your book published if you were a woman in France. I learned that the famous author Colette was forced to write under her husband’s name, and the popularity of her books gave her husband the hideous idea to lock her up at home until she produced another book. While she escaped, it was a long journey until her work was taken seriously under her own name.
We have indeed come a long way from those times, but it’s only a few years ago that we heard that J.K. Rowling (aka Joanne Kathleen) was asked by her publishers to use initials to cover her gender to not dissuade boy readers from the book.
Another tour highlight was visiting France’s first female-run publishing house, Éditions des Femmes, which opened up its sunny courtyard doors in 1972. The founder, Antoinette Fouque, published France’s first collection of audio books because she wanted to make literature accessible to housewives who didn’t have time to sit down and read (I know my Mom friends can relate.)
Learning about the trials of George Sand outside her house, I was happy to take some comfort in the delicious sweet treats offered as part of the tour. The Saint German area is filled not only with the haunts of female literary geniuses but also some of the best chocolatiers and patisseries in the city.
Heidi was a fantastic guide and her encyclopedic knowledge made the streets come alive with the tribulations of Paris’ great female writers – women who have fought against prejudice and pursued their passion for the written word. I’m grateful for their hard work and for paving the way for future female writers. A well-researched article reveals that women have gender parity on the New York Times bestseller list, but we still have a way to go in being more broadly represented in the publishing world.
Strolling away, I could almost imagine Simone de Beauvoir making her way to the café Deux Magots or Collete gathering her thoughts along the river Seine. I’m happy I’ll be returning in June with company of an inspiring group of woman writers from around the world!
Consider joining us – there are still a few space left.