Here's a cool shakeup to power structures in literary culture: the 2014 VIDA Count will be focusing on women of color. Hooray for intersectional feminism!
The VIDA Count, which began in 2010, breaks down the number of books written by women reviewed in literary publications, and the number of pieces written by women in the same. Unsurprisingly, when they first began, most publications were almost ludicrously skewed towards men; there were a few that were fairly equal, such as Tin House, but they were the exception, not the rule. Since VIDA began their count, however, some publications, such as The Paris Review, have made an effort to change, and now have something that more closely resembles gender parity in their pages. Other outlets, such as The New Yorker, remain more than 75 percent male.
Since its inception, the VIDA Count has only looked at gender, but that is about to change. Despite the fact that the organization is run entirely by volunteers, this year those hardworking souls have decided to look at literary inequality along another axis as well and focus on women of color for the first time.
They explain on their website:
VIDA has culled the names of all women appearing in the journals we count and will send writers individual, blind surveys that follow the U.S. Census designation of Race/Ethnicity so they may self-identify, if they wish. While no system depending on social constructs will be perfect, VIDA feels that allowing writers to self-identify or decline to identify for the purposes of this survey is the most respectful and efficient way to obtain a broader understanding of who is being recognized in our literary community.
All of which sounds awesome.
The conversation about lack of racial diversity in publishing (and in the world of books more generally) has been going on for a while now, made especially prominent by the We Need Diverse Books campaign. But as with any issue, the more information we have about the problem the better. It's one of the things that already made the VIDA Count so important, because it showed the sexism in the literary world in clear quantitative terms. It's hard to argue with numbers, and so having concrete evidence of the problem means the people trying to discuss the issue can't simply be dismissed as "imagining things."
By including women of color in their 2014 analysis, the VIDA Count will be providing further evidence to add to the debate, no matter what they find about the representation of women of color. My hunch is that they're going to discover that women of color are dramatically underrepresented in most of the publications they look at. That's the great thing about having data, however — you don't have to speculate, you can know for sure.
Here's to the watchdogs like VIDA for applying an intersectional lens. The VIDA Count for 2014 will be released in April.
Image: Caleb Roenigk/flickr