The grass-roots organization VIDA, which does wonderful work in supporting female writers in the literary arts, has taken up a project that most literary writers, unless they’ve been living in caves for the past few weeks or months, have heard about by now: The Count. Vida counted the percentages of male and female authors in a number of literary publications to demonstrate in clear, incontrovertible terms the lack of gender parity in the publishing world. Most of us women writers suspected that the playing field was not entirely even, but the numbers (Harper’s Magazine’s female writers make up only 21 percent of the pool?!) were really quite shocking. And thanks to Vida’s groundbreaking efforts at pointing out that lack of parity, authors, editors, and publishers are beginning to engage in important conversations about the state of writing and publishing in America.
But I think what’s been painfully missing in these discussions is the fact that many writers and readers are willfully blind to the world that exists outside of Granta, The New York Review of Books, The Boston Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, New Republic, Harpers, Poetry, and the handful of other publications, mainly of East-Coast pedigree, that Vida selected for its count. When pressed by curious readers as to why certain publications and publishers that are very friendly to women writers (like the phenomenal Sarabande Books, for example, which self-reports that 54% of its authors are women) weren’t counted, Vida responded that “We just couldn’t count every journal and press, so we opted to look at a handful of the most prominent.”
The most prominent.
Now there’s something that deserves a little more consideration, I think. What makes this handful a selection of the most prominent journals? Age? (the count includes publications as young as 12 years of age.) Affiliation? (the counted publications seem largely independent.) Circulation? (I’ll give you that–these publications certainly make the rounds.) Or could it really come down to quality–or perceived quality–of writing?
If quality is the key, it leads me to wonder whether Tess Gallagher’s work is really less spellbinding when it appears in The Los Angeles Review than when it appears in The Sun, or whether Dana Gioia any less an important American poet in the pages of LAR than in Poetry magazine. We think that Benjamin Percy was just as promising a new, young voice when we published him as he was when Graywolf released The Wilding. And we think Lucia Perillo’s work in LAR is just as tremendous as it is when her poems appear in Tin House.
At LAR, we conducted our own count. We know we’ve been champions of women’s writing for many years, and our numbers don’t lie. Here is the breakdown for 2010, and for the first half of 2011. Issue 7: 45% women, 55% men; Issue 8: 42% women, 58% men; Issue 9: 54% women, 46% men. We’ve also dedicated issues of the magazine to legendary West Coast women writers such as Judy Grahn, Eloise Klein Healey, and Wanda Coleman. We’re staunch supporters of the best writing the West Coast and the nation has to offer, and we believe that such writing comes from men and women alike.
Now, I want to be clear that I’m not knocking Vida. I think they’ve done an admirable job in getting the discussion about parity off the ground, and as a woman writer, I thank them for that work. But I would like to pose a question: where’s the love for publications–ones that publish fine work by such important writers as the ones I’ve named above–that are getting gender parity right?
I’d like to suggest that the writers and readers who take gender parity seriously might put their money where their mouths are, and support publications that are answering the call to publish equitably.
Send your work to editors who publish the best that men and women writers have to offer. Spread the word to your reader and writer friends in order to make those journals the new model of prominence by keeping them around and keeping them read. And for the love of literature, subscribe to publications that actively champion women writers.