Obituaries, Visitors and Mary Oliver

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Yvonne Brill, rocket scientist, being honored by Pres. Obama

Yvonne Brill, rocket scientist, being honored by Pres. Obama

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an obituary for Yvonne Brill, a celebrated rocket scientist (and, no, unfortunately, she didn’t get her undergrad degree in the hallowed halls of MHC, but rather, in her native Canada, the University of Manitoba) which began like this:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. ‘The world’s best mom,’ her son Matthew said.

I watched the feminine uprising take off on Facebook and Twitter. Would the revered NYT ever begin an obituary of a celebrated male rocket scientist by starting with his cooking skills? It reminded me of the time Hillary Clinton, well, wait, I’ll show you:

The New York Times has since changed Yvonne Brill’s obituary in response to the criticism.

I know it’s sometimes suggested as an exercise for a variety of reasons to write your own obituary (maybe goal-setting, clarifying your values, etc.) Once, I wrote a character’s biography in an attempt to create and understand her back story better. But, I don’t want to write my obituary today. I want to share with you the ending of Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” because it says what I hope for.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Certainly, Yvonne Brill was more than a visitor. She was clearly a tremendous mother and that is absolutely important — it’s clear she thought so. But, would the New York Times ever discuss a father’s cooking and parenting skills when his obituary is in the Times for an entirely different reason? No. Hopefully, the New York Times learned something in this incident.

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A Women’s Publishing Movement? Why Not??

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A Women’s Publishing Movement? Why Not??

“Change requires intent and effort. It really is that simple.” Roxane Gay

(If you find yourself unable to read to the end of this post due to time, please do bookmark and read Ms. Gay’s essay, Beyond The Measure of Men. Do NOT miss her essay.)

The web is buzzing again with the righteous indignation of women about the infuriating discrepancies in publishing of men vs women. We had the American Society of Magazine Editors report and, as Alexander Nazaryan reports, “No, seriously. Many are up in arms about the complete lack of female writers nominated for the major categories of Reporting, Feature Writing, Profile Writing, Essays/Criticism and Columns/Commentary.” No females nominated in any of the major categories, despite some fine writing in those categories. Quite fine. Excellent, in fact. Read Nazaryan’s report and be angry.

Last February, I wrote about the VIDA count and the gender disparity in publishing. This February, another VIDA count, another round of frustrating, but not surprising news. Lyon Review’s managing editor, Sandi Sonnenfeld recently updated us on the new VIDA count. Another year of same song, same story, but most often coming from people with penises. Take a look at this graphic from the count.

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Did You Know?

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Percentage of Female Authors Published Less than Half of Percentage of Published Men

Women make up 80 percent of all fiction readers, yet the number of published women novelists compared to men still remains well-below 50 percent. According to the wonderful women’s arts magazine VIDA, the problem starts with the literary magazines themselves. In 2010, the most recent year studied, The New Yorker published work by 163 women and 449 men. They reviewed 36 novels by men. And women? Just 9 novels. The numbers in Three-Penny Review, another one of the top literary magazines in the country, whose Editor, Wendy Lesser, is ironically a woman, aren’t any better. Stories and creative nonfiction by men: 61. By women: 25.

And according The New Republic writer Ruth Franklin, of the 13 main publishing  houses still in existence in the US, the numbers continue to show a preference for male writers. Only the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there with Norton, Little Brown, and Harper Collins all scoring around 30 percent—and the rest 25 percent and below, including Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent).

The numbers were even worse for the indie presses, a huge surprise considering that these publishers pride themselves on issuing quality, original, literary work that the mainstream houses won’t. Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was the highest-scoring independent. Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent.  Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent and Dalkey Archive Press, came in last: in 2010!!! a mere 10 percent of its authors were female.

For those of us who publish or aspire to publish, it’s time to rev up our engines; support the work of women writers, buy their books, offer to review works by women in your local newspaper, blog or magazines, and most of all share the news when you read a great novel by a woman writer.

And don’t forget to review our list of published MHC alums on our Blog Roll.

And share your own thoughts here….