Poetry News

VIDA Reveals Gender Bias in Best American Series

By Harriet Staff


VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, co-founded by poets Erin Belieu and Cate Marvin, has released its new count illustrating gender inequity, this time examining the contents of the Best American anthologies in poetry, fiction, and essays. As the data on their website demonstrates, it seems the guys have it again (respective to the lifetime of a series, with BAP's first issue out in 1988). The gender imbalance in Best American Poetry is 39% women to 61% men for the overall, with 32 women and 43 men featured in the 2010 publication (series editor, David Lehman; guest editor Amy Gerstler). As VIDA notes, "In twenty-four years of the Best American Poetry anthologies, there were only four years in which the number of published works by women were greater than those by men." Genre does actually seem to make a difference: the essay count was rather dire, with works by women accounting for only 29% of those published in the anthology (overall); and a more positive statistic for short stories, where 47% of the stories published from 1978 to 2010 were written by women.

Why it matters, of course, from writer and board member Cheryl Strayed: “The Best American series is the Academy Awards of the literary world. Publication there is often the most meaningful credit a writer has to offer when seeking further publication or a job. When I look at these numbers, I have to ask: What careers stalled because gender bias plays a role in preventing a writers’ work from reaching a national audience? What price do women writers pay in financial terms and cultural esteem?”

We have to say the data are hardly surprising--the anthologies aren't known for being progressive aesthetically, either--but this isn't an issue of progressivity; more largely, numbers trouble is something to be aware of. As VIDA's Tara Rebele writes: "Clearly, counting alone is not enough. However, raising awareness is the first step toward affecting change. We hope that as we continue to disseminate the data, ask the difficult questions raised by our findings and engage in rigorous dialogue with members of our shared literary community, we’ll be embarking on a path toward parity in publishing."

Originally Published: May 31st, 2011
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