Interesting note in the newest Poets & Writers (believe it or not) about BlazeVOX [books] – my publisher. Indie presses publishing women should be a given, right? Apparently it’s not. Geoffrey Gatza says he published only 3 women over his first 30 books (two were nominated for Lambda awards). But that has changed dramatically. Anne Waldman (who he has subsequently published) gave him a piece of advice: announce that you’re open to publishing women. Geoffrey says this changed his submissions drastically.
While I think Geoffrey’s success in attracting women writers to BlazeVOX is terrific, it does disturb me to realize that even among independent presses, literary publishing is assumed to be male-centric. There is obviously an implicit hostility to female writers. Geoffrey wished to publish more women, but before he announced it explicitly, it was assumed he did not. Nate Pritts began a conversation about this a few months ago in regards to his own journal, h_ngm_n.
This past week, attending the &NOW Conference, “a conference for innovative literature,” I was pretty overwhelmed by the male driven nature of the gathering. You’d think that conference that avoids the center and, supposedly, definition would naturally attract a less male group. I became especially aware of it as I (a male) stood in for Danielle Pafunda, reading her paper on the Gurlesque, for a panel organized by Lara Glenum (along with fellow male Johannes Göransson). Lara and I had a few conversations about this during the conference, and about her own feelings as a woman at this conference (which I won’t presume to express), after which the sex ratio of attendees became palpably important to me.
Do publishers have a responsibility to explicitly express their openness to women? Or is this problematic in itself? And should this responsibility be extended to addressing other demographic groups?
Perhaps more important, what can be done to eliminate this implicit exclusion?
19 thoughts on “BlazeVOX publishes ladies”
This is an incredibly important question. Thanks for raising it here. What’s necessary, first of all, is probing questions like this one in as many contexts as possible. This of course raises other questions like where were the people of color at the conference? While Nathaniel Mackey, Percival Everett, Lily Hoang, Pedro Ponce, and several others were integral to the program, they were the exceptions that proved the rule. You know, I was surprised that there were no questionnaires or surveys handed out at the conference. A questionnaire/evaluation form would have served as one vehicle to initiate critique. I would also guess however that the organizers of &Now would have been completely open to the idea.
I really liked this post.
When I was an undergrad, I took at class dedicated to small press publishing. We were required to do weekly reports on literary magazines or journals, and consequently had to break down each issue: how many of the contributors were males, how many were females, how many had MFAs, how many had previous publications, etc. Most journals–certainly not all–had an even representation of the sexes, and I can’t remember a single one of them ever explicitly requesting the work of females.
I’m not sure if there’s a lesson here. This is more a roundabout way of getting to the point that I think it’s the responsibility of the editor to put out a journal (or cultivate a stable with their press) that’s as rich and varied as possible–not just between the sexes, but also in voice, worldview, style, whatever else.
That’s why I’ve always liked BlazeVOX, why they were my first choice when submitting my poetry manuscript. Gatza has gone out of his way to create a mammoth catalog of almost every conceivable type of “experimental” writing.
There’s no easy answer for this sort of problem. But a little awareness goes a long way.
Sorry if this was unfocused…
That’s interesting, David, that your professor insisted on such a statistical approach to the study of publishing. Did it reveal anything particularly interesting to you personally?
That’s a good question.
It taught me to look at each issue of a magazine as a whole, taught me to ask myself, “How does the inclusion of Piece A affect the inclusion of Piece B?”
It taught me to look at the books small presses are putting out, and to think about them analytically, to ask myself “why this book?” It taught me to recognize that editors are just people with specific tastes, and that wasting their time is the same thing as wasting my own time (I am still learning this, I think).
It taught me that I really like it when a journal is filled with pieces as varied as possible, yet somehow adhering to an overall aesthetic. That, to me, is the highest level of publishing.
Rose Metal recently sent out a message indicating that 75% of their submissions were from men and they were interested in addressing that imbalance so the BlazeVox anecdote is not the exception. Often times, women don’t feel included in independent publishing and this isn’t necessarily about getting published but rather the overall vibe. Whether it is an accurate reflection or not, the indie scene often feels very boy’s clubbish and whenever you try to talk about it, guys defensively fall all over themselves naming all the women they know being published and getting their MFAs etc etc etc as if that means that everything is just fine. As a woman, I don’t feel an overwhelming need for a publisher to make it explicit that my writing is welcome there but there are markets to which I don’t even bother submitting because when I look at the the kinds of work being published or the associated personalities, I get the sense that perhaps I don’t have enough testosterone for the endeavor.
I wonder if you would talk some more about the elements of exclusivity within the overall vibe that you’ve sensed, ascertained, sussed out, guessed, intuited from independent publishers.
To what do you attribute the defensiveness of guys within the indie scene, their seeming unwillingness to address their unearned privilege, their sexism.
Also what are the specific signs from publishers that indicate their bias? What makes it, as you write, “boys’ clubbish”?
Hi John. I am going to ramble in a moderately coherent manner.
It is hard to explain the vibe but for example, take the Blake Butler facilitated No Contest Contest and the winning stories up at Lamination Colony. I respect Blake (and know him as an HTML Giant contributor) and I don’t think he was at all being discriminatory. In my experience, he’s a really nice guy. But. All ten of the winners and finalists were guys. I have no idea how many women participated in the contest but I imagine it was very few. I did enter but I don’t write that language-driven experimental stuff so I was not at all surprised to not place nor did I perceive my not placing as sexism. I don’t know if the aesthetic preferred by indie publishers is more frequently adopted by men or what, but I think there is something there. It’s very hard to explain but you just know there’s an unwritten Boys Only atmosphere sometimes. I’d also say that I rarely perceive it as malicious–I think these guys have similar styles so they dig each other’s work and hang out together and publish each other (not out of vanity or anything) and its hard to break into that.
I don’t ever feel excluded in indie publishing as a woman but I also don’t (despite the length of this comment) sit around thinking about it too much. If I did put some real thought into it, I might get angry.
I absolutely believe the defensiveness is all about guys not wanting to acknowledge or own up to privilege. I get it. We cannot help who we are and men shouldn’t be raked over the coals (I quite enjoy them!) but what frustrates me is the unwillingness I often sense from some men to just say, “Yeah. I’m pretty lucky and I recognize that I have certain advantages.” Instead, you always hear the defensive denial and the recitation of all the ways in which they too are not privileged and all the ways in which a few token women, people of color, queer writers, etc. are extraordinarily privileged as if that makes everything okay. Really? Ugh. So annoying. If that’s how you feel, just don’t say anything at all, at least not in public. It makes you look ridiculous.
A while back on the PANK blog we had a very lively discussion about race and gender in independent publishing and immediately gender bias in indie publishing was largely dismissed as a nonexistent problem–one commenter even said I was inventing a problem where one did not exist. That’s the level of… ignorance that we’re dealing with–complete denial (and delusion, I’d say).
Specific signs from publishers… again, it’s hard to define but when you look at the catalogs of many many independent publishers, most of whom I respect and support, all or most of their titles are from men. Is it that men are more aggressive in getting their work out there, particularly when it comes to full-length manuscripts? Whatever the reason, I find the imbalance very telling.
such an interesting topic.
here’s a bit from my experience as editor of the literary online magazine BluePrintReview.
one of the concepts of BluePrintReview is to have an even balance of stories and poetry, and also an even balance of
male and female contributors. both are sometimes a bit difficult to reach, with poetry submissions and submissions from male contributors usually outnumbering short stories and submissions from female contributors.
last year, i did some research on this theme, that’s how i came across this bit of statistic:
“WomenTK (TK is journalism lingo for “to come”, i.e. “yet to be included”) has assembled stats on how many bylines we “ladies” get in the major U.S. general-interest magazines.
Ratio of male to female writers in national “general interest” magazines, compiled from September 2005 to September 2006: 3 : 1
Raw numbers: 1,446 : 447
“The numbers speak volumes, but they’re not the whole story. As a former editor at The New Yorker wrote me in an e-mail, ‘in addition to counting bylines, you should look at what women are allowed to write about. I’ve been struck by a pattern, at The Atlantic in particular, where women only seem to write about marriage, motherhood and nannies, obsessively so. If you count the number of women’s bylines there that weren’t about hearth and home, the number would approach zero.’
(this was online here: http://www.womentk.com – unfortunately, the statistic isn’t online any more, but it’s still up in a blog, here: http://pencil-roving.blogspot.com/2007/02/in-search-of-generation-xx.html, with some additional quotes)
the thing that struck me back then was the ratio:
3 to 1 — which fitted with the submission ratio i received back then, too. right now, the submissions are rather even. my guess is that the issue styles/characterists/gender ratios themselves are influencing the submissions.
as to my own gender: female. (one funny thing is that some (male) contributors seem to assume that editors are surely male, too – every now and then i receive submission that start with “Dear Sir”. the last time that happened, i couldn’t resist, and wrote back: “Dear Madam.”)
I think Roxane’s comment: “I did enter but I don’t write that language-driven experimental stuff…” is particularly important/interesting.
Not only am I one of those people who writes language-driven experimental stuff, I also do the majority of my scholarly work on texts that would be similarly classified. And the sad fact is that the majority of it is written by men. I wish it were not the case. I am always constantly seeking experimental women writers, but they are so hard to find: it seems like for every Kathy Acker there are thirteen John Barths.
For example, when putting together a syllabus I always try to even out the gender divide, but when I’m doing a class on postmodern lit. I’ve got maybe one and a half handfuls of options when it comes to women — and that’s something as ubiquitous as postmodernism! Were I to do a class on avant-garde/experimental lit. that number drops to about three or four options.
What’s up with that? Where are all the experimental women writers? Or, a better question might be: why aren’t more women writing experimental work?
This is a much needed dialogue, one we should never think has been exhausted.
Here are the stats on the gender equation at Fiction Collective (one of the bastions of innovative/experimental writing). From their current roster (http://fc2.org/authors.aspx#) 40 are women and 67 men.
Here are the women:
Rosaire Appel, Kim Addonizio, Margo Berdeshevsky, Kate Berhnehimer, Karen Brennan, Alexandra Chasin, Andree Connors, Lucy Corin, Moira Crone, Fanny Howe, Lily James, Debra Di Blasi, Rosalyn Drexler, Janice Eidus, Eurudice, Diane Glancy, Marianne Hauser, Noy Holland, Affinity Konar, Judy Lopatin, Constance Pierce, Ursule Molinaro, Cris Mazza, Deborah McKay, Vanessa Place, Jan Ramjerdi, Lou Robinson, Rachel Salazar, Pamela Ryder, Leslie Scalapino, Linda Schor, Elisabeth Sheffield, Carol Smith, Kathryn Thompson, Susan Steinberg, Jessica Treat, A.B. West, Diane Williams, Lidia Yuknavitch, Magdalena Zurawski
Here are the men:
Mark Amerika, George Angel, Alain Arias-Misson, Mark Axelrod, Jonathan Baumbach, Kenneth Bernard, R.M. Berry, Jerry Bumpus, C.W. Cannon, Omar Castaneda, George Chambers, Ricardo Cortez Cruz, Evan Dara, Samuel R. Delany, Jeffrey DeShell, Tony Diaz, Melvin Dixon, Brian Evenson, Raymond Federman, Larry Fondation, B.H. Friedman, Thomas Glynn, Christopher Grimes, Richard Grossman, Stephen Gutierrez, James Baker Hall, Rob Hardin, Harold Jaffe, Bayard Johnson, Stephen Graham Jones, Michael Joyce, Steve Katz, Brian Kiteley, Norman Lavers, Philip Lewis, Norman Lock, Clarence Major, Stephen-Paul Martin, Michael Martone, Jay Marvin, Franklin Mason, Michael Mejia, Mark J. Mirsky, Lance Olsen, Toby Olson, David Porush, Doug Rice, Matthew Roberson, Leon Rooke, John Henry Ryskamp, Michael Seide, Jacques Servin, John Shirley, Seymour Simckes, Alan Singer, Peter Spielberg, Robert Steiner, D.N. Stuefloten, Ronald Sukenick,Yuriy Tarnawsky, Steve Tomasula, Lewis Warsh, Don Webb, Ivan Webster, Curtis White, William S. Wilson, Max Yeh
If there are any errors, please forgive me.
Also, I think the list of women writers above is a start toward answering Chris Higg’s (Hi Chris!) question about where are “all the experimental women writers” are.
To add to that list you may add Lily Hoang, Cara Benson, Teresa Carmody, Amelia Gray, Leni Zumas, Joanna Howard, Can Xue, Deborah Eisenberg, and I’m sure a host of others.
And my answer to the question, “why aren’t more women writing experimental work,” is that I think there are more women writing experimental work, and that the reason we may not know of them are other mechanisms, namely, our own blinkers and blinders, the lack of exposure/promotion/support of said writers, etc.
I also think it would be interesting to identify how people characterize experimental writing–I would never think to put Deborah Eisenberg or even Amelia Gray on such a list (which is not to suggest that they write traditionally). What is the threshold for experimentation?
It is indeed very difficult to find women publishing experimental work. As an editor, I can comfortably say that it is exceptionally rare to see experimental work from a woman writer.
When I do write experimentally, as I try to grow as a writer, I’m often very… nervous about sharing it so it just sits on my hard drive. Maybe other women are like that too. I don’t think that women aren’t writing experimentally but rather they aren’t getting it out into the world. It would be interesting to have more understanding of what the barriers are.
Great discussion, all. I think about this too. At Hobart (on the web side of things, anyway), we definitely get more submissions from men. I don’t know what the statistics might be, but it does seem to be weighted more toward men. It’s weird. Partly, I think there are more dudes out there submitting things. Maybe this is a confidence issue that has its roots in traditional social roles, etc. As a teacher, I have noticed (and I’ve read studies to this effect, too) that male students are far more willing to make their voices heard, even if they don’t have anything of substance to say. Maybe we’re seeing a similar dynamic at work here?
The stats of writers/artists at Les Figues Press (http://www.lesfigues.com/lfp/7/lfp-writers-and-artists):
18 Women, 5 Men
Danielle Adair, Nuala Archer, Sissy Boyd, Amina Cain, Jennifer Calkins, Teresa Carmody, Allison Carter, Molly Corey, Lisa Darms, Alta Ifland, Pam Ore, Vanessa Place, Sophie Robinson, Kim Rosenfield, Susan Simpson, Stephanie Taylor, Julie Thi Underhill, Christine Wertheim
Stan Apps, Vincent Dachy, Ken Ehrlich, Axel Thormählen,
You make a good point, John, about the lack of exposure.
Of those 40 FC2 women you listed, I am familiar with the work of only ~15 of them. Of the 67 men, I am familiar with the work of ~30 of them.
Of those 18 Les Figures women, I am familiar with the work of 3 of them; the men, only 1.
I now have a goal: to familiarize myself with the work of those other women writers. Thanks for posting this info!
Roxanne – thanks for sharing your experience. You describe it well – the apprehensions and the differences are not necessarily felt acutely, and therefore can often go unaddressed.
As far as the definitions of experimentalism. This is obviously also a question of sex too. Is this ‘experimentalism’ that we’re referring to a specific type of writing cut from the very male cloth of the Beckett-Barth-Lish legacy?
i just came across a whole table of links that are connected to the gender issue in writing:
Chicago Review blog:
poetry and gender: following ‘numbers trouble’
here the direct link: http://bit.ly/7HJ0sp
and here the introduction quote:
“The new Chicago Review includes a suite of articles that discuss gender representation in poetry publishing. The articles include “Numbers Trouble” by Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young and a response by Jennifer Ashton, as well as a short note on gender representation in literary magazines that I wrote with Joshua Kotin. (UPDATE: The articles are now available as PDFs at the CR website.)”
here the pdf-links:
Poetry Magazines & Women Poets
The Numbers Trouble with “Numbers Trouble”
Thanks, Dorothee. This is a great resource. I just looked at the current issue of Blue Print Review. I think publishing all previously published stuff is a great idea. We’ reprint quite a few things at Action,Yes – if we like something and think it needs more of an audience, then we reprint it. I think I’ll put up a post about this…