2008: Not a Good Year to be a Woman Writer

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) is a nonprofit that consists of over 900 book reviewers who are actively writing. Each year a 24-member Board grants an award to the best book in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—and honors two accomplished reviewers from within its membership. Announced on March 12, 2009 at a ceremony held at the New School in New York, and covering books published in 2008, this year none of the NBCC Awards Winners are women.Now let's put this in a bit of context. Thirteen of the Board members are women. Twelve out of the 34 finalists were women. Last year's winners were not only half women, but the winners were also ethnically diverse. So why did women lose out this year? 

One answer, according to Sarah Seltzer, may lie in feminist-oriented books getting the shaft (pun intended) by anti-feminist review writers; the authors are dismissed by critics because of their conflicting politics, which overlooks the integrity of the work itself. Anna Clark opines, "even the most talented women writers often aren't validated in the same way that their male counterparts are." Sometimes this lack of validation is simply because they are women writing in a sexist society; other times it is because they have actively chosen to operate outside of the traditional system. They're not after The Man Booker Prize (though they probably wouldn't turn it down); they're after validation from their intended audience, which may not shower them with such accolades.

Some sites have been created for women's voices to be heard--like Feminist Review (founded by yours truly)--while others can do a better job supporting women's creative expression. Here are my own 2008 Winners for the NBCC categories:

Autobiography: The Dancer from Khiva: One Muslim Woman's Quest for Freedom (Bibish)

Biography: Sex Variant Woman: The Life of Jeannette Howard Foster (Joanne Passet)

Criticism: The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (Susan Faludi)

Fiction: Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)

Nonfiction: Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (Tristan Taormino)

Poetry: Humming the Blues: Inspired by Nin-me-šar-ra, Enheduanna's Song to Inanna (Cass Dalglish)

What are yours?

by Mandy Van Deven
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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Faludi's Terror Dream is

Faludi's Terror Dream is great! I did a review of it for a journalism class and got lambasted by my professor who, having never read the book, claimed that Faludi did not do her research and was not "really" a journalist.

Can't wait to begin my career as a feminist writer and get guys like this back!

Perhaps your professor ...

... is being "coached" by that evil David Horowitz (or, as I like to refer to him as, "HORRORwitz")?? He is one blowhard <a href="http://www.campusprogress.org/tools/155/">who must be stopped.</a>

As for favorite books, I was disappointed learning that the deeply moving <a href="http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307278258">Una... Earth</a> was snubbed for most every award it was eligible for after receiving some of the best reviews a fiction book can receive last year. This book also affirmed the short-story format is as relevant as ever in a time where the general state of publishing is more about what is meeting corporate profit goals than about the accessibility of expressive, diverse voices.

<a href="http://www.susanfaludi.com">The Terror Dream</a> is indeed essential reading. Glad you did a report on that for your class, anyway!

Not a good year to be a mediocre writer?

I think there's something DEEPLY troubling about the thought process of this post.

Why can't writing be judged on the quality of the writing? Why does it suddenly have to be judged on the gender and ethnicity of the author? This entire post stinks in that regard...

That being said, book awards tend to be a pointless and incestuous thing anyway. The Booker is the worst of them. If we were judging authors on their writing skills and their ability to resonate with an audience, it's the likes of Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer who'd be winning. Book awards sneer at populism, whereas that's the true sign of a visionary writer (and most of them, you'll notice, are women.)

I did like your list of winners, though - you had Tristan Taormino in it and she's GREAT.

Recognition does matter

I think it is troubling that women win less awards, winning awards is part of the game. This statistic would not be as foreboding if women were on equal footing in the industry but they are not. In every category of writing, women get less recognition(novels, poetry, playwriting etc), and with less recognition comes less opportunities to promote your work. If you can't promote your work, you get lost among the masses of books that come out every year. There was a book that recently came out about female authors that addresses this subject, A Jury of her Peers by Elaine Showalterm.

re: A Jury of her Peers

<i>Fresh Air's</i> book reviewer Maureen Corrigan <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101647894">had an excellent review</a> (including text excerpt) of that book a couple weeks' ago. Hopefully there are more to come, giving life to the otherwise underrecognized.

Women =/= Mediocre

Ronald, love, this is my point exactly. Women have been struggling to climb out of a ditch they were thrown into hundreds of years ago by men who thought being a 'woman writer' was akin to being mediocre. Writing has been judged for centuries on the gender and ethnicity of the writers; this is apparent through the privileging of white and male writers, past and present. I think the 2008 NBCC Awards (and other literary awards) shows that this bias is still in full effect. So I'll echo your sentiment: Why can't writing be judged on the quality of the writing? Good question for a sexist society.

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