For the past six years, the volunteer organization VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts has been analyzing top-tier publishers in the literary community to see what's going on with who's being hired, and asking the crucial questions about who's hiring women and people of color.
There's no doubt that it's necessary to have these numbers and showcase with unwavering clarity the uphill struggle most women writers face when it comes to being published, but VIDA has been a pretty bleak project, acknowledging year after year that women and people of color are underrepresented across the publishing landscape.
This year's report sheds a little light, though, on some positive changes. Publications Harper's, The New Republic, and The Boston Review added more women reviewers to their roster, and Granta and The Atlantic have made noticeable efforts to close the gap and hire more women contributors. The New York Times Book Review has been consistent, and "women were well represented among book reviewers" for them this year.
On the flip side, The Paris Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Nation haven't shown significant changes; those publications mostly stayed the same (The Times) but The Paris Review, which showed women sharing 51% of the pie in 2013, slid 11% in the last year overall!
The real kick in the teeth comes when you look at the situation for minority women. This is the first year VIDA has included women of color in their count, and while they recognize the dataset is incomplete, VIDA thinks it's important to promote discussions around race:
We at VIDA believe it is time to begin surfacing visibility and promoting discussions around race. For this first annual WOC 2014 VIDA Count, our dataset is incomplete, and that is the key point we wish to begin interrogating.
Having said that…yikes. Those tall purple columns? Those represent how many white women are working at each company. Note how they tower over the other columns, which represent women of color.
Looks like at most literary publications, women of color are almost completely non-existent.
Any good faith effort towards identifying the factors that create awareness begins, not with accusations, but with questions. That is why we are presenting the overall results of this first attempt towards recognizing our historical system of racial inequality and how that might bear out in the world of publishing[.]
VIDA recognizes that they're in the beginning stages of identifying some of the issues with race in the literary landscape, but as a black woman who is also a writer this just looks like a hot pile of garbage to me. What's most problematic is the idea that raising awareness is enough, when there clearly need to be some actionable items for publishers to have some follow through. Just recognizing that you're not hiring (enough) women or (any) people of color doesn't result in change—company-wide diversity initiatives and a masthead full of people who want to actively effect change is also crucial.
Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.