What would Sappho say? Competition details

Jane Fae's picture

Win prizes celebrating women in the 21st century

Sappho: the Letchworth connection

Sappho: we all know, or think we know about Sappho. Lyric poet from Lesbos.  First Lesbian. Byword for things Lesbian. Though the truth is a lot hazier: we know she existed, was an esteemed woman poet, at a time when poetry was very much a man thing, and she probably did live on Lesbos.  For the rest?  All very debatable…though this has not stopped her being claimed over the years by a wide variety of movements and causes.

In the 19th century, she was associated at various times with romanticism, general eroticism and women’s suffrage. More recently, the stronger association with Lesbian sexuality has been adopted.  It makes Sappho something of a “placeholder”: a person onto whom different causes project their desires and wishes, without there necessarily being any substance to any of it.

Yet Sappho has a special place in the history of Letchworth. In 1906, in the early days of the city, two women - Isabelle Linnell and Miss Morissow -  cycled up to Letchworth from Hamstead.  They liked the Letchworth project so much they bought houses here and then lived the rest of their lives within calling distance of one another, eventually passing on in the 1950’s/60’s as “spinsters”. Is there back story here?  We don’t know.

But what we do know, again, is that Isabelle’s brother-in-law was well-known sculptor, Thomas McLean, and he donated a statue of Sappho to Letchworth.

Random statue? A celebration of women’s rights? Letchworth’s “gay moment”? No-one quite knows. Sadly, the original was stolen in the 1990’s. So the statue that now adorns Howard Gardens is a replica: but still, Sappho is a familiar part of Letchworth life, dressing up, with a little help from locals, for events like Halloween or Spring; known and celebrated by generations of women.


And now you can celebrate Sappho – Letchworth too if you wish – with a competition on the theme of “What would Sappho say?”.

Because after all, what WOULD she say, if she popped back today. It is to be hoped she would be pleased with the progress made by women – young women especially – and LGBT people: but then she might be concerned, seeing how progress made over the last half century is in so many places in the balance. Even being rolled back.

Respond, if you will, with a short essay (5-800 words), a poem, a cartoon, a piece of art.

Who can enter?

The competition is open to all, but sponsored by Letchworth Gender Equality Network, which describes itself as an intersectional, feminist trans-inclusive, sex-positive online space. So it helps if you support such principles: likewise, you don’t have to be local to enter. But it might help.

There is currently a prize fund of £150 to divide up between winners: that may increase if local businesses decide to add their support.


Judging will be by

- Julian Norman, Trustee of FiLiA
- Ceri Jenkins, co-founder of Bath Gender Equality Network and now an organiser of the LSE intersectional feminism soc
- Anna McNay, former Arts Editor, DIVA

Closing date

Please send entries to Jane Fae/ jane@ozimek.co.uk no later than 26 May. Either email them or, if they are unsuitable for delivery electronically, contact Jane to discuss how to get your entry to her.

Prizes will be announced and awarded during the Letchworth Festival, which takes place 10-24 June.