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Gender: Two Novellas in Verse

Gender: Two Novellas in Verse

By: Anne Harding Woodworth
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: October 2, 2022
ISBN: 978-1639882977
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: July 10, 2022

In two very different scenarios, author and poet Anne Harding Woodworth offers inter-related themes regarding gender as perceived inwardly from an individual viewpoint, and outwardly, as gradually understood by thoughtful onlookers.

In Martin/Martina, we meet the novella’s eponymous hero-ine, person born female yet who does not develop physically as a typical girl/woman. She lost her mother at an early age, and her father proposes to leave her and become a monk. She convinces him that she can act and appear as a boy, and she joins him at the monastery, where sensitive Father Ralph assigns her to work in the garden. Meanwhile a young woman named Bronwyn, shamefully treated by her egotistical mother, becomes pregnant by a soldier who soon moves, and somehow, Martin/Martina is allowed to parent Bronwyn’s son Dino. Her mother/father dualism serves the child well, and only at the end of her life is her true gender discovered, and miracles begin to be attributed to her.

In Aftermath, the world has been laid waste by war and terror, and only three groups of humans remain: Builders, who can construct homes for themselves and others but, seemingly asexual, have no wish to mix with other groups; Weavers, who are females without partners; and the Fennel Men, rough-cut males who have little of use to occupy their time, until a Weaver gives birth, and the social structure begins to change. A boy named Tadz emerges as a strong, spiritually minded leader, eventually garnering twelve followers who incorporate the trades and traits of each group, so that

Together they built. Together they wove.
Life was a treasure that went beyond trove.

Woodworth is an award-winning poet with membership in the Poetry Board of the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Board of Governors of the Emily Dickinson Museum. She has constructed both intriguing stories using leaps in time, dynamic changes of scene, inner thought among her diverse characters – all in a poetic framework employing both free verse and rhyme to best effect. The fantasy that envelops both novellas also provides food for realistic thought about the eponymous issues raised: what, really, is gender, and how does it affect us and those around us? Does it really matter if a person like Martin/Martina is a father or a mother, a female or a male, if the child s/he raises feels love, strength and caring? If males and females, as in Aftermath, choose to live separately, will the alienation of that choice inevitably become less attractive than the communal gathering of knowledge and the mutual development of understanding?

Quill says: Woodworth has created two worthy worldviews in which gender roles are mixed as much as matched, offering not only charming tales but also focus for serious contemplation, particularly for young readers coping with current gender-based trends.

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