Each year the Women of the World Festival celebrates International Women’s Day with world-class speakers, activists, and performers. The festival, held at the Southbank Centre, returned for its first in-person event since 2020.
The opening day of the festival brought Pandora Sykes and Lisa Taddeo together to the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall to discuss what happens when we are pushed to the brink. Journalist, broadcaster and author of Sunday Times bestselling essay collection How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? Pandora Sykes tables the conversation with Lisa Taddeo, an award-winning author and journalist. Taddeo opens with a reading from her 2021 novel Animal, highlighting her interest in ‘what happens when you have nothing left to lose’ through the character of Joan, a woman pushed to the brink in search of someone who may help her unravel her mysterious past.
Sykes and Taddeo discuss each of the latter’s published works starting with Animal. Taddeo describes the novel as dealing with the aftermath of trauma in women as they carry their pasts with them into their future explored through the aforementioned Joan. She highlights her interest in women’s relationships with each other, stating that she sees her novel’s central theme to be the relationships between women but also women’s relationships with themselves; they learn from each other and seek others' approval. Sykes points to the raw and visceral nature of the novel which Taddeo replies that she is fascinated by the ‘dark edges of human nature’.
The conversation turns to Taddeo’s celebrated non-fiction work Three Women, a number one bestseller. The book follows the sexual and emotional lives of three women across the United States from differing backgrounds resulting in a piece defined as ‘spellbinding’ Amongst the discussions of the process of reading and writing this work over the span of eight years, She revealed that in order to find participants for the book, she utilised ‘Unrequited Love’ posters displayed alongside her contact information She describes the process of travelling to meet potential women across the country, and even relocated herself to be closer to the women she was interviewing.
Taddeo speaks on her return to the short story form with her upcoming collection of short stories Ghost Lover, especially those written for magazines, which belong to a ‘beautiful community’ as she expresses.’ She conveys her appreciation for the intricacies within short stories, allowing those writers to exist away from an interest in commercial success. This, as she puts it, allows for more care to be put in at the minute level. She even declares that of all the writing styles she has worked with throughout her career, she would choose short stories over them all. The two discuss Taddeo’s short story Doctor Fuck, published in Playboy Magazine, which follows her experience of joining the elusive dating organisation for those seeking extramarital affairs, Ashley Madison, ending with Taddeo connecting with her previous gynaecologist. The surprising literary element of Playboy is heightened as Sykes reveals that Taddeo is one of a shortlist of writers to have written both fiction and non-fiction for the magazine, a list that includes legendary authors like Margaret Atwood. Taddeo reveals the freedom she felt in writing for the magazine, explaining that she feels that typical ‘men’s magazines’ like Playboy are more comfortable with the subversion that she expresses through her short stories.
The event comes to a close with giddy questions from the audience, Taddeo is authentic and personable even as one audience member scolds her for revealing too much of women’s inner thought processes in Three Women. The rest of the audience and Sykes praise Taddeo’s ability to reveal and speak directly to the innermost desires and thoughts of her characters and, by extension, her audiences.
So, what is next for Lisa Taddeo? Firstly, Ghost Lover will be in stores on the 14th of June 2022 featuring 12 short stories, 2 of which have been awarded the Pushcart Prize. As well as this, Taddeo revealed she is working on adaptations of her literary works including a series based on her book Three Women featuring Shailene Woodley, Betty Gilpin, Dewanda Wise, and Gabrielle Creevy.
The WOW Foundation was created by Jude Kelly CBE in 2018 to run the global movement that is
WOW - Women of the World Festivals. The Festivals began in the UK in 2010, launched by Kelly at
the Southbank Centre London, where she was Artistic Director, to celebrate women and girls, taking a
frank look at what prevents them from achieving their potential, raising awareness globally of the
issues they face, and discussing solutions together. You can find out about the work they do here.
Edited by Maisie Allen, Literature Editor