Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Just before AWP this year, VIDA, an organization that "seeks to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities," released "The Count 2010" which highlighted the male to female ratio of writers for various magazines and journals. It showed just how underrepresented women were in these magazines, and it was disheartening to see. And I aligned myself with those who wanted to see that ratio improve.
However, I started to think about the books I read in 2010 and when I went back over the list, I was shocked to see how much it skewed toward male writers. It was a nearly 4 to 1 ratio. Part of the problem was that I read a ton of Hard Case Crime novels, which has so far published only a single book by a woman. Still, that doesn't explain why I chose so many books by men in literary fiction over female writers.
It was strange to me that this was happening, since, if I made a list of my top five or top ten books of all time, there would be more books written by women than men. And if I went back and looked at 2010, the two best books I read would probably be Emma Donoghue's The Room and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad.
So, for 2011, I decided that I would try to focus my reading list to account for books written by women. It wasn't that I was going to read books by women exclusively, or that I would pick books I didn't want to read, just because they were by women. I just wanted to make sure that I actually read the books by women that perhaps before I would push to the back of my list in favor of male writers. So far this year, I've read 21 books and 13 of them have been written by women. I've even found a great place for pulp novels written by women, the Femme Fatales series by The Feminist Press, so I've been picking books from this series instead of the Hard Case series, which is on hiatus right now. I've read books as diverse as The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the Edgar Award nominated novel Black Water Rising by Attica Locke, a pulp spy novel by Dorothy B. Hughes called The Blackbirder, novels by some of my favorite writers like Ann Patchett and Allegra Goodman, and literary novels by newer writers like Hannah Pittard and Tea Obreht and Karen Russell.
It's been a good exercise and one that I hope might lead me to eventually stop having to keep track of the ratio and simply benefit from reading works by both men and women.
Though the numbers were depressing, I am grateful to VIDA for their work in compiling The Count.


sarafina said...

VIDA sounds pretty great! Tea Obreht and Jennifer Egan are on my list for the summer too. I really enjoyed Hannah Pittard's book as well; it is one of my staff picks at the bookstore ( It's amazing how easy it is to miss women writers who are doing such good work. Another one I'm looking forward to is Sarah Blake's The Postmistress. Oh, and Swamplandia! Lots of good stuff out there.

K. Wilson said...

The Egan book is particularly amazing, I think, Sara. I also really loved Hannah Pittard's novel. I'll have to add The Postmistress to my "to-read" list. Thanks for mentioning it.

Photographe à Dublin said...

There are several blogs kept by crime writers on my profile page that you might find useful as they have a good gender balance.

Nice blog. Glad to have found it by chance.

Anonymous said...

Just finished Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead and loved it. Not noir, but smart and gritty none the less. I just put Family Fang on my to read list. I found you via Jason Griffey's blog.

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