What if book clubs only selected books by women authors? Now there’s an idea.

by Pam Parker, Community Forum Editor

Women write. Women read. Women buy books for book clubs by the thousands and sit together and discuss their choices. But apparently women writers face the same issues in writing as in nearly every other profession open to them: men dominate the field. The web has been swirling with comments about the disparity for months. Last summer when Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM received rave reviews, established female authors revolted. Many of them didn’t deny that FREEDOM was a fine book, but wondered why it was so rare for female authors to receive rave reviews. For example, read about Jodi Picoult’s comments.

In February, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts published The Count 2010. And, predictably and appropriately, The Count is being quoted and written about by many other literary publications and blogs. (See the Utne Reader, The New Republic and who knows how many blogs in the blogosphere.) VIDA’s study focused on authors and books reviewed in key literary publications leading to some lovely pie graphs which are reappearing web-wide showing the dreadfully small female slice of the pie. I will show you one of VIDA’s pies here:

Writing in The New Republic, Ruth Franklin’s article, “A Literary Glass Ceiling? Why magazines aren’t reviewing more female writers,” takes an indepth look at VIDA’s numbers and goes one disturbing, albeit important, step further:

Now we can better understand why fewer books by women than men are getting reviewed. In fact, these numbers we found show that the magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year. The question now becomes why more books by women are not getting published.

The VIDA numbers provide a start toward an answer: Of the new writing published in Tin House, Granta,and The Paris Review, around one-third of it was by women. For many fiction writers and poets, publishing in these journals is a first step to getting a book contract. Do women submit work to these magazines at a lower rate than men, or are men’s submissions more likely to get accepted? We can’t be sure. But, as Robin Romm writes in Double X, “The gatekeepers of literary culture—at least at magazines—are still primarily male.” If these gatekeepers are showing a gender bias, there’s not much room to make it up later.

As a female writer working on the path toward a book contract, I have opted to publish my short stories in literary journals, hoping, always hoping, to break into that tier referenced above. But to see that only about one-third of their acceptances are from women and knowing that many of them also only publish already-established authors, what really are my chances of breaking in on that level? At the Tin House Workshop last summer, a well-established female author encouraged me to submit an excerpt from my novel to GlimmerTrain because, “They seem to have more feminine sensibilities.” (Submission done, rejection received.   )

So, what’s a female writer to do? Give up. Hardly. And, if the woman writer happened to go to Mt. Holyoke College (where women rule) and Wesleyan University (diversity and tolerance above all else), and be a breast cancer survivor, surrender is never an option.

I will continue to write. I will continue to read. I will, however, push harder for my bookclubs to select books by female authors. Only female authors. And that feels wrong (remember, diversity and tolerance above?), but it’s something, right? That will be my tiny rebellion for the cause. And yours?

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2 thoughts on “What if book clubs only selected books by women authors? Now there’s an idea.

  1. What? No books with football or beer content?

    When I started my blog, I noticed 90% of my readers were female. I asked my daughter why and she said, “Daddy, it’s ’cause men don’t read.” Oh well.

    Dr. B, author, “The Mandolin Case”

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