Will 2018 be the Year of Publishing Women?
If Pakistani-British novelist Kamila Shamsie has her way, female writers will get some long overdue attention in the literary world with a radical new movement.
After attending a panel discussion on "The Crisis of American Fiction," in which an all-male panel discussed only male authors for an entire hour, Shamsie began to research the dearth of women in publishing and literary fiction.
In 2014, only 27 percent of authors represented in The Times Literary Supplement and 29 percent represented in The Nation were women, according to the annual VIDA count, an effort to shed light on gender inequity in the Western literary world.
What's more, just under 40 percent of books submitted to the Booker prize over the past five years were by women, Shamsie found through research. And, as novelist Nicola Griffith has pointed out, far more prize-winning novels have male than female protagonists.
"Like any effective system of power – and patriarchy is, over time and space, the world’s most effective system of power – the means of keeping the power structure intact is complex," Shamsie wrote in a "provocation" in the UK's Guardian.
"The problem with the Booker Prize could stem from the fact that its past judges have been predominately male, but the issue runs deeper. Female judge Sarah Churchwell explained last year of the male-dominated longlist that she simply read what she was sent, and most submissions were written by men," Shamsie wrote. "The picture that starts to emerge from these statistics is one of judges who judge without gender bias but are hamstrung by publishers who submit with a strong tilt towards books by men."
Her radical solution? Declare 2018 the Year of Publishing Women.
That's right, Shamsie is calling for publishers to boycott or put off books by male authors for one year and focus only on women writers.
"The knock-on effect of a Year of Publishing Women would be evident in review pages and blogs, in bookshop windows and front-of-store displays, in literature festival lineups, in prize submissions," she writes.
While her provocation was met with mixed response, one small publishing house has taken up her challenge.
The publishing house And Other Stories, which releases about 10 titles annually, has said it will release only titles by women in 2018.
“By taking on the challenge we will expose our systems and the paths of recommendation and investigation that brings books to us, and we will end up becoming a kind of small-scale model for a much bigger inquiry about why women’s writing is consistently sidelined or secondary, the poor cousin rather than the equal of men’s writing,” Sophie Lewis, a senior editor at And Other Stories, told the Guardian.
So far, no other publishing houses have signaled that they will follow suit, but similar projects have been launched in recent years to highlight women writers.
2014 was declared the Year of Reading Women, The New York Times has steadily upped its coverage of women, and, as the Huffington Post points out, publishing project Dorothy is dedicated to publishing books by women, and subscription service Emily Books recommends mostly titles by women.
Whether or not The Year of Publishing Women will catch on, and make a difference for women writers, remains to be seen.