VIDA: WOMEN IN LITERARY ARTS
Editor’s Corner #12: Lisa Pearson for Siglio
VIDA was founded in August 2009 to address the need for female writers of literature to engage in conversations regarding the critical reception of women’s creative writing in our current culture. In 2010, VIDA began The Count — a project that calculates the rates of publication between women and men in many of the writing world’s most respected literary outlets. VIDA continues to explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities. Editor’s Corner is a VIDAWeb feature in which editors and publishers explore complex issues regarding sex, gender, race and sexuality as they relate to their projects.
On the current publishing climate:
The climate is strange, baffling, exciting: absurdities, frustrations, and triumphs abound. Given the number of presses and outlets for self-publishing, there are actually few limitations on anybody getting their work into print, online, or in a digital format (and that’s a different discussion altogether). Even if you take the vast self-publishing opportunities like CreateSpace and Lulu out of the equation, there is still an astonishing number of independent presses with an extraordinary variety of editorial viewpoints. The question is who’s paying attention? Who’s engaging with the book, talking about the book—and by implication perhaps buying the book too, and that’s what The Count is about—cultural stock. . . .
As far as Siglio’s own responsibility to rectifying the underrepresentation of women goes (and I think at this point it goes without saying that this is a persistent issue), I take that very seriously. Half of the current Siglio titles are authored by women including It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists and Writers, which weighs in at almost 300 pages with twenty-six projects (by thirty-three women). There was a lot of internal debate (and with friends who argued with me to help me clarify my views) about whether this should be a book of work only by women and if “women” should be the organizing principle. Why not have almost all women and a token man or two? Why not include female fictional alter egos of male writers and artists—as if all the work is “by women”? Why not eschew a title that seemed to segregate women and just present it as de facto by women (like many books that do not have a declared male-centric position, but are nonetheless clearly biased)? These ideas really appealed to the contrarian in me, but ultimately, I felt that it was important to make a firm declaration (while risking the loss of a male readership) as well as real space for works by women. . . .
I think there’s a deeper and very complex cultural issue here with regards to underrepresentation: Why don’t men read books by women? If they did, then the disparity would disappear. . . . How many men are reading VIDA’s reports and know about The Count? How many men are a part of conversation that we care about tremendously? This seems absolutely essential.
On VIDA’s Count:
In 2007, when Siglio was still more of an idea than a reality, I saw a presentation at the Feminaissance conference at the Museum for Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Poets Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young gave a presentation that broke down the gender gap in literary awards and certain kinds of publications—a very similar enterprise to VIDA’s count. (I remember being particularly surprised by how women had won many more awards while a ridiculously high percentage of total award money was granted to men.) Of course, we (women writers and publishers) recognize the inequality from our own personal experiences and observations, but when it’s quantified, we have to ponder not only the reasons such inequality persists—willful ignorance? embedded or outright prejudices? laziness? good intentions without meaningful action? intractability of institutions? etc.)—but also what can be done about it. Until that moment I hadn’t really considered my very specific responsibility as a woman publisher to women artists and writers. I had assumed that the ways in which feminist thinking informed Siglio’s mission as a whole would be enough. It’s not—and The Count is a tonic to complacency, dispelling the notion that we will make progress without unambiguous action. It is a critical, multi-use tool: a disquisition with concrete impact. It’s about awareness and outrage, leverage and accountability, as well as about inspiration and activism.