From Electric Lit:
Publishing still isn’t an equal-opportunity space for people who aren’t white men — but at least we’re talking about it now. It’s hard to remember how limited and lonely the world felt before we reached our current level of cultural awareness of racial, gender, and sexual discrimination — when our discomfort with an all-white male literary panel might go completely unregistered, because outside of private conversations there wasn’t even a place to register it.
At the beginning of Brooklyn’s ascendancy as a literary place — with its rising concentration of writers, editors, publishers, and agents moving from all over to this one borough, and often even to just a handful of neighborhoods within the one borough — there was no guarantee that you would find the space, the reading series, the magazine, the press, the publisher here that represented you, where the work being featured might actually speak to you. And while these blind spots in the literary scene weren’t unique to Brooklyn, they were certainly represented here, and reinforced as well by the mainstream publishing industry that was based in Manhattan, a short subway ride away across the East River.
An entire decade later in 2010, when VIDA — a non-profit organization that gives an annual account of the number of men and women reviewed by or published in major literary magazines — released its first full report, the results showed a staggering gender imbalance across the publishing industry, numbers that on the whole haven’t greatly improved in the near-decade since. And yet, at the local level in Brooklyn between ’99 and 2010, change did come — slowly, painstakingly, and because of the action of individuals within the borough’s literary community. In this oral history we’re going to hear from some of those figures — curators, publishers, writers, and literary citizens — responsible for addressing the lack in Brooklyn’s literary scene, as they talk about what changed, how it happened, and what it meant.
One of the first problems that walked into our lives was that it was really hard to find women to come and read. The imbalance was something that became clear to us pretty much right away. Men would recommend each other, and men who were not qualified would recommend other men who were not qualified. It was amazing. They would be like, I clearly should be here, and my friends should also be here. Meanwhile women who were overqualified, who were incredible, would get there and be nervous, as if they weren’t allowed to have that space. And maybe for that reason they also wouldn’t recommend other women.
. . . .
When I looked at our own numbers, in terms of gender Tin House’s slush pile [the unsolicited work being sent to the publication] was 50/50. But when I sent out encouraging rejection letters — like, “This isn’t going to work for the magazine, but please feel free to send me something else” — as opposed to flat-out no’s, women were four times less likely to send something again. It seemed as if their reaction was, “Oh, you’re just being nice.” Whereas when I sent out encouraging rejections to men, they would immediately say, “Here are five more things. Here’s my desk drawer.” They would just take it literally.
Link to the rest at Electric Lit
PG says this whole article feels dated to him.
What in particular seems outmoded?
- Gatekeepers – What a dumb concept and concern about this or that group allowing you to participate in a social gathering despite your gender or race when you can reach a much larger audience online as an indy author, blogger, etc., than would ever fit into a physical space for an author reading. The online literary scene is larger and more important by countless degrees of magnitude than the Brooklyn literary scene ever has been or ever will be.
- What an antiquated concept to worry about being discriminated against by agents and publishers because of your gender, race or viewpoint. Why are you bothering to deal with people like that? Have you ever asked yourself if you are perpetuating such discrimination by doing business with a collection of such discriminatory people?
- Even being physically located in or near Brooklyn as an important factor for your success as an author seems archaic. In an era in which millions of interest groups form and thrive online regardless of the lack of geographic proximity, what does access to “Brooklyn” even mean? Although it’s not his cup of tea, PG has nothing against Brooklyn and hopes that all who would like to live there are able to do so, but to connect “Brooklyn” with success as an author is illogical. Your manuscript arrives at Amazon as quickly from Bozeman as it does from anywhere else.