Why Weren’t Any Women Invited To Publishers Weekly’s Weenie Roast?
Publishers Weekly recently announced their Best Books Of 2009 list. Of their top ten, chosen by editorial staff, no books written by women were included. Quoted in The Huffington Post, PW confidently admitted that they’re “not the most politically correct” choices. This statement comes in a year in which new books appeared by writers such as Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Rita Dove, Heather McHugh and Alicia Ostriker.
“The absence made me nearly speechless.” said writer Cate Marvin, cofounder of the newly launched national literary organization WILLA (Women In Letters And Literary Arts), which, since August, has attracted close to 5400 members on their Facebook web page, including many major and emerging women writers. “It continues to surprise me that literary editors are so comfortable with their bias toward male writing, despite the great and obvious contributions that women authors make to our contemporary literary culture.”
WILLA’s other cofounder, Erin Belieu, Director Of The Creative Writing Program at Florida State University, asked, “So is the flipside here that including women authors on the list would just have been an empty, politically correct gesture? When PW’s editors tell us they’re not worried about ‘political correctness,’ that’s code for ‘your concerns as a feminist aren’t legitimate.’ They know they’re being blatantly sexist, but it looks like they feel good about that. I, on the other hand, have heard from a whole lot of people—writers and readers–who don’t feel good about it at all.”
PW also did a Top 100 list and, of the authors included, only 29 were women. The WILLA Advisory Board is in the process of putting together a list titled “Great Books Published By Women In 2009.” This will be posted to the organization’s Facebook page and website. A WILLA Wiki has also been started for people to share their nominations for Great Books By Women in 2009. Press release to follow.
WILLA was founded to bring increased attention to women’s literary accomplishments and to question the American literary establishment’s historical slow-footedness in recognizing and rewarding women writer’s achievements. WILLA is about to launch their website and is in the process of planning their first national conference to be held next year.
(Note: until recently, WILLA went under the acronym WILA, with one “L.” If you’re interested in the organization, please Google WILA with one “L” to see background on how this group was originally formed.)
For more information contact:
Erin Belieu — firstname.lastname@example.org
Cate Marvin — email@example.com
Man Made of Books – Books Made of Men
Spent some time checking out the general content of the books that made the list – the summaries are all taken from the Publisher’s Weekly website below. Simple to observe that the content that “stood out from the rest,” according to PW, is all about mostly male protagonists and their realities: war, adventure, science, boyhood adventures, taming the wilderness, the male writer’s life, etc. In other words, the novels that deal with women’s realities simply “don’t stand out” – check Publishers Weekly TOP TEN:
[PRIMARILY ABOUT MALE PROTAGONISTS FOCUSED ON MOSTLY MALE SCIENTISTS]
Holmes, author of a much-admired biography of Coleridge, focuses on prominent British scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the astronomer William Herschel and his accomplished assistant and sister, Caroline; Humphrey Davy, a leading chemist and amateur poet; and Joseph Banks, whose journal of a youthful voyage to Tahiti was a study in sexual libertinism. Holmes’s biographical approach makes his obsessive protagonists (Davy’s self-experimenting with laughing gas is an epic in itself) the prototypes of the Romantic genius absorbed in a Promethean quest for knowledge.
[AGAIN, MOSTLY MALE PROTAGONISTS]
Eighteen-year-old Lucy Lattimore, her parents dead, flees her stifling hometown with charismatic high school teacher George Orson, soon to find herself enmeshed in a dangerous embezzling scheme. Meanwhile, Miles Chesire is searching for his unstable twin brother, Hayden, a man with many personas who’s been missing for 10 years and is possibly responsible for the house fire that killed their mother. Ryan Schuyler is running identity-theft scams for his birth father, Jay Kozelek, after dropping out of college to reconnect with him, dazed and confused after learning he was raised thinking his father was his uncle.
Big Machine by Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)
[AGAIN, THE MALE REALITY WINS]
Gritty, mostly honest-hearted ex-heroin addict protagonist Ricky Rice takes a chance on an anonymous note delivered to him at the cruddy upstate New York bus depot where he works as a porter.
Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey (Knopf)
[ALL ABOUT A MAN]
In this overlong but always entertaining biography, composed with a novelist’s eye, Bailey, biographer of Richard Yates and editor of two volumes of Cheever’s work for Library of America (also due in March), was given access to unpublished portions of Cheever’s famous journals and to family members and friends.
A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon by Neil Sheehan (Random House)
[AHEM, SERIOUS MALE REALITIES, WAR AND “REAL WORLD” SHIT]
The military-industrial complex proves an unlikely arena for plucky individualism in this history of the men who built America’s intercontinental ballistic missile program in the 1950s and ‘60s. Sheehan paints air force Gen. Bernard Schriever and his colorful band of military aides, civilian patrons, defense intellectuals and aerospace entrepreneurs as a guerrilla insurgency fighting Pentagon red tape, and a hostile air force brass, led by Strategic Air Command honcho Curtis LeMay, who advocated megatonnage bomber planes over ICBMs.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (Norton)
In eight beautifully crafted, interconnected stories, Mueenuddin explores the cutthroat feudal society in which a rich Lahore landowner is entrenched.
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer (Pantheon)
[WHOA, MANLY ADVENTURE]
Two 40-ish men seeking love and existential meaning are the protagonists of these highly imaginative twin novellas, written in sensuous, lyrical prose brimming with colorful detail.
Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (Doubleday)
[SURPRISE: MORE ON MEN AND THEIR ADVENTUROUS NATURES]
In 1925, renowned British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett embarked on a much publicized search to find the city of Z, site of an ancient Amazonian civilization that may or may not have existed. Fawcett, along with his grown son Jack, never returned, but that didn’t stop countless others, including actors, college professors and well-funded explorers from venturing into the jungle to find Fawcett or the city. Among the wannabe explorers is Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker, who has bad eyes and a worse sense of direction.
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (Penguin Press)
[WHEW, THIS LIST SHOULD BE CALLED, “HOW MEN LIVE”]
Philosopher and motorcycle repair-shop owner Crawford extols the value of making and fixing things in this masterful paean to what he calls manual competence, the ability to work with one’s hands.
Stitches by David Small (Norton)
[AND HOW BOYS GROW UP TO BECOME MEN]
In this profound and moving memoir, Small, an award-winning children’s book illustrator, uses his drawings to depict the consciousness of a young boy. The story starts when the narrator is six years old and follows him into adulthood, with most of the story spent during his early adolescence.
**Why aren’t more people saying something about such blatant hypocrisies? Publishers Weekly’s lists are likely consulted by librarians for acquisitions purposes – does this mean we are not interested in reading about women’s lives? Is PW really *that* irresponsible?
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.