SHaME was honoured to host the official book launch of author, activist, survivor and academic Winnie M Li’s second novel, Complicit (Orion). Winnie was joined in conversation at Birkbeck College by Professor Joanna Bourke (Principal Investigator at SHaME) and guests Marai Larasi, Professor Liz Kelly (London Metropolitan University), Rowena Chiu, and Dr Katherine Angel (Birkbeck).
Tipped to be one of the summer’s blockbuster reads, COMPLICIT is ‘a sharp and timely look into the dark heart of Hollywood and its instances of sexual abuse’ (ELLE magazine). It may be fiction, but it is rooted in a lived experience of survivorhood and a keen understanding of workplace pressures in a male-dominated creative industry. Written as suspense, with a mainstream audience in mind, the book nevertheless challenges readers to think: How complicit are we all in cultures of sexual harm?
This question and many others was considered by our panel who bring a wealth of expertise, drawn from research, activism, art, and lived experience. Marai Larasi has worked as a social justice advocate for over twenty-five years, focusing on ending violence against Black/ Global Majority women and girls. Professor Liz Kelly is one of the UK’s leading academics researching violence against women. Rowena Chiu has her own very personal story involving Harvey Weinstein, which featured in The New York Times investigation and the landmark book SHE SAID. Acclaimed writer Katherine Angel (TOMORROW SEX WILL BE GOOD AGAIN) is known for her insightful literary nonfiction on feminism, consent, and sexuality. And Winnie wrote COMPLICIT as the follow-up to her debut novel DARK CHAPTER, a fictional re-imagining of her real-life rape.
Historian and SHaME Principal Investigator Professor Joanna Bourke (RAPE: A HISTORY, DISGRACE: GLOBAL REFLECTIONS ON SEXUAL VIOLENCE) chaired the discussion, using the novel as a lens for exploring important issues researched at The SHaME Project: narratives of sexual assault and consent in the media; memory, psychological well-being and complicity; the ‘long tail of impact’ that misogyny has on women’s careers and lives; intersectionality and experiences of sexual violence; and the survivor’s voice in the act of writing.
This event was organised in collaboration between Clear Lines (the grassroots organisation using arts and discussion to address sexual assault and consent), with support from Orion Publishing. SHaME is funded by The Wellcome Trust.
You can watch a recording of the event below:
Winnie M Li is an author and activist. COMPLICIT is her second novel, which draws from her earlier career in the film industry. A Harvard graduate, Winnie worked as a film producer before her life was disrupted by a violent stranger rape in Belfast in 2008. Her debut novel, Dark Chapter, is a fictional retelling of her rape from victim and perpetrator perspectives. Translated into ten languages, it won The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize and was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Winnie is also Co-Founder of the Clear Lines Festival, the UK’s first-ever festival addressing sexual assault and consent through the arts and discussion. Her PhD research at the London School of Economics explores media engagement by rape survivors as a form of activism. Winnie has given over 100 public talks and appeared on the BBC, Sky News, Channel 4, The Guardian, The Mail on Sunday, The Times, The Irish Times, and TEDx London. She holds an honorary doctorate of law from the National University of Ireland in recognition of her writing and activism, and served as Writer-in-Residence at The SHaME Project at Birkbeck University. Her second novel Complicit has been published in 2022. http://winniemli.com
Marai Larasi is a Black, African-Caribbean-British feminist advocate, community organiser and consultant who has worked in social justice for over twenty-five years, with a specific focus on ending violence against Black / Global Majority women and girls. Till May 2019 she was the Executive Director of Imkaan (UK), and she also served as Co-Chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (UK). She was one of six activists that attended the 2018 Golden Globes Awards as Red Carpet Guests, during the launching of #Time’sUp. Marai was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from Birkbeck College, University of London , in a Birkbeck College Fellow, and is Professor of Practice, in the Department of Sociology at Durham University.
Liz Kelly is Professor of Sexualised Violence at London Metropolitan University, where she is also Director of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU) and holds the Roddick Chair on violence against women. She has been active in the field of violence against women and children for four decades and is recognised as a leader in the field. She is the author of Surviving Sexual Violence (1987), which established the concept of a ‘continuum of violence’ and has been part of building a feminist evidence base on rape and sexual violence.
Rowena Chiu worked as Assistant to Harvey Weinstein in 1998. After leaving the film industry, she has worked in the fields of management consulting (for Accenture in London, McKinsey & Company in Silicon Valley, and PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong) and international development (for the World Bank in Ethiopia, South Sudan & Washington DC). Rowena holds an MA in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, an MSc in International Management For China from the University of London, and an MBA from London Business School. She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and four young children and is currently working on a memoir and a screenplay about her experiences in the film industry.
Katherine Angel is the author of the internationally acclaimed Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again (Verso, 2021). Her previous books are Daddy Issues (Peninsula Press, 2019) and Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell (Penguin, 2012). Her work has been translated into nine languages. She teaches creative and critical writing at Birkbeck College, University of London, and has a PhD in the history of psychiatry and sexuality from the University of Cambridge.
Joanna Bourke is Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London, Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, and a Fellow of the British Academy. She is the Principal Investigator of the SHaME project. She is the prize-winning author of fifteen books, as well as over 100 articles in academic journals. Among others, she is the author of Rape: A History from the 1860s to the Present (2007), What it Means To Be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present (2011), and The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers (2014). Reaktion Books published Disgrace: Global Reflections on Sexual Violence in July 2022. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, Turkish, and Greek. She is a frequent contributor to TV and radio shows, and a regular correspondent for newspapers.