Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2014, the year of women writers

Although past are the times when women authors have to use male pen names (George Eliot) or publish their work anonymously (Jane Austen) to have a better chance of being produced and read, there is still a noticeable disproportion in the reception and promotion of female writers compared to male writers.  In April 2013, Vida, an American organization for women in literary arts, discovered such imbalance when they looked at the percentages of reviews and reviewed books written by women in the main publications. For example, at The New York Review of Books, only 16% of reviewers were women, and only 22% of the books reviewed were written by women. Even more comprehensive are the figures and graphs provided by CWILA, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, sorted by publication. The reasons for this situation could be many-folded. Is it because of the sexism pervading the publishing industry? Is it because women are not confident enough to push through? Or is it because we are more inclined to choose books written by men?

But we forget that after all, it is the readers who control the situation, not the publishers. Thus, writer and illustrator Joanna Walsh found an unexpected way to take action against this trend and created a movement that spread like fire on Twitter. She started the hashtag #readwomen2014 after she had designed some bookmarks representing some of her favourite women writers. Since then, the hashtag has been taken up by numerous users, and it has even prompted journalists and publishers to give the subject some thought.

Bookmarks designed by Joanna Walsh

We, Canadians, have a great women's literary tradition, with Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood leading the way. But the question is, how many of the books on our shelves are written by women? How many women-authored books we read last year? Next time we select a book, we should ponder this, and take a step towards discovering our next favourite woman writer.


  1. Margaret Munro?? don't know her, do I? And are they leading? or following their foremothers - e.g. Mavis Gallant, Gwethalyn Graham. Margaret Laurence, Mazo de la Roche, Ann Hebert, Ethel Wilson, Lucy Maud Montgomery... etc ...?

    1. I apologize for the typo, it has been fixed.
      As for the second part of your comment, you are making a valid point and the post above is meant to be the first step in a more ample conversation. Thanks for starting it and feel free to comment any time you have something to add.
      The article above is mainly focused on contemporary authors, as reflected in the statistics offered by Vida and CWILA. There are some great Canadian women writers out there, but I feel they do not always get the exposure they deserve. What was the last book you read that was written by a woman writer? When?