Monday, August 23, 2010

White Male-ness of Literature: Not Inevitable

Anyway, there are ways that our reading is shaped and limited by the biases of the dominant literary gatekeepers--maybe without realizing it, we've only read books by people of a certain race, or who write in a certain language, or who follow the conventions of a certain genre (including the unnamed genre of Anglo-American Serious Fiction). To some people this is the great opportunity in the coming bookquake, the chance to disintermediate some of those gatekeepers and their peculiar, ossified biases. But the real bias may be inside of us, as readers, and we might have to force ourselves out of them to take advantage of these new opportunities. How exciting is it to consider that there are worlds of literature out there that you may not have tapped into, undiscovered countries of books to explore that might yet tell you something new in a new way?
I wonder, though, if the reader has more responsibility for this than the gate-keepers. Because this article struck out to me from the Toronto Star, about how women are dominating the Canadian fiction list:
Last year, 10 of the 12 books longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize were written by women — even if, granted, the eventual winner was Linden MacIntyre's The Bishop's Man. Beyond that, four of the five Governor General's Award finalists, including winner Kate Pullinger's The Mistress of Nothing, were by women. The Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, which included three female finalists, was won by Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean — the only book to be nominated for all three prizes. The past three winners of the Amazon First Novel Award have all been women.

By contrast, the past six winners of the Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction were men. Since the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction was introduced six years ago, four of the winners have been men.
And yet here in the United States, fiction is apparently the domain of white men. (By the way, when I tried to think of women writers, almost all of the ones I thought up were non-fiction: Mary Roach, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jane Goodall, Sarah Vowell, etc. -- and I tend to know about them from The Daily Show).

Is it that Canadian readership has a bias towards women-written literature, and American readership has a bias towards men-written literature? Or is it more likely that the American gatekeepers are more male-biased than the Canadian gatekeepers? Or are there other factors at work?

Not knowing the Canadian and American publishing systems, I am in no position to judge. But figuring out what the differences are between them might illuminate the problem.

3 comments:

RVCBard said...

Or is it more likely that the American gatekeepers are more male-biased than the Canadian gatekeepers? Or are there other factors at work?

Yes.

To expand ever so slightly, I wouldn't downplay the importance of education in all this either. I'm not sure how Canada educates the public about literature, but if you look at how we are taught history and culture here, there's a lot of Great (Dead!) White Man stuff getting piled on.

CultureFuture said...

Oh, I'm sure education has some role to play in it, as well as historical relations between the different groups and many, many other things. I have very little knowledge to Canada to know which elements are more or less important.

I guess my point was more about my ignorance (Canada is doing something right! I wonder what their history is like) than any assertion of what's actually working.

RVCBard said...

Something that might be worth trying out - if only to see what it leads to - is Anna Moore's exercise for writing about plays (which aren't necessarily literature) without reviewing them (h/t NYIT.