Girl Reading – BBC Radio 4

Zoë Comyns meets painter Anastasia Pollard, writers Imtiaz Dharker, Karen Joy Fowler, Samantha Ellis, Katie Ward and art historian Riann Coulter to explore the pose of the girl reader.

Listen on BBC Radio 4

What is she reading and why? What does the pose evoke in the mind of the viewer? What is going on in the girls imagination, is she reading to escape, to learn, to find a path through her own life?

This programme draws the listener into the frame of paintings by Simone Martini, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Johannes Vermeer, Gwen John, Louis le Brocquy, Henri Fantin-Latour and Harry Herman Roseland to evoke the scene and what the act of reading signifies. Art historian Riann Coulter describes the artworks and unpicks why so few seem to be painted by women.

Writers discuss what and where they read as a girl. Poet Imtiaz Dharker recalls learning the Quran and visiting her local library – she recites Beware the Books, in which a girl finds sanctuary in a book shop, but a trickier path through the books she encounters.

Portrait by Anastasia Pollard


Writer Karen Joy Fowler knows that a book can be transformative and life changing, she transports us to her neighbour’s treehouse were she read to experience adventure.

Katie Ward wrote a novel called Girl Reading in which each chapter fictionalises the story behind a painting of a girl reading. Se explores the symbolism of a girl reading and how the intimacy we all crave can be expressed in a painting.

Writer Samantha Ellis grew up in the Iraqi Jewish community in London and her family life directly influenced how and what she read – she always searched for strong heroines in novels.

Anastasia Pollard is a portrait and figure painter. She paints Zoe Comyns in the pose of the reader and, throughout the sitting, they discuss what it means if we can see the book title, how patterns of light change the scene and the psychological presence of a painting in a room.

Recitation of the Qu’ran is by Medinah Javed recorded by Alia Cassam

Produced by Zoë Comyns
A New Normal Culture production for BBC Radio 4