Because Numbers Don’t Lie
In 2010, Vida: Women in the Literary Arts published The Count 2010, a report of the numbers of men and women published in national magazines and review journals. When I saw the numbers, I experienced a bone-chilling sense of displacement, as if I’d been time-warped into a century when American women were not allowed to speak in public, much less publish. A sampling of the numbers:
Back up a year. In the summer of 2009, just before I entered an MFA program, I reserved the domain name www.writingwomenslives.com with the idea that after I completed my MFA I would teach women writers the art of writing creative nonfiction. I had been a professional writer, editor, and copyeditor for years, spending much of my spare time flexing my creative writing muscle and reading women’s history, women’s memoir, and women’s personal essays. What I discovered was that women’s memoirs and personal essays contained what I call the emotional truth of women’s history, truths that reveal what it means to be female.
Call to Action
After reading The Count 2010, which includes numbers for book reviewers and authors reviewed, I asked myself what I could do to change future Vida counts. First, I set an intention to review books by women about women’s lives. My reasoning? The more women’s books are reviewed, the more these books get into readers’ hands, the more likely they are to shape America’s literary landscape. I could review women’s memoirs, personal essays, and biographies for literary journals, and I could make reviews of women’s writing a prominent feature of Writing Women’s Lives™, which was beginning to take shape.
Still, I had to ask Why? With so many serious, committed, phenomenal women writers writing today, why were the numbers so disbelievingly disparate? The answer to this question, if there is one answer, is surely multifaceted and complex and rooted somewhere between a culture’s predominant literary aesthetic and the silencing that muffles women’s literary history. I decided to view The Count 2010 as a call to action. Time for us girls to reassess who we are as writers, recommit ourselves to our craft, prioritize our writing time and space, send our work into the world where it can speak in public.
Why Every Woman Should Publish Her Work
I love Anne Lamott. Back in the late 1990s I listened to Word by Word, her live seminar on writing, until the cassette tape unraveled (remember cassette tapes?). Lamott said, and I’m paraphrasing from memory here, that writing is an act of consciousness and that through writing we discover who we are. Amen, sister. She also said that, while publication has its moments of glory, it’s not a reason to write. Back then, I nodded right along with her. But now? Now I think women writers must set their sights on publication. Why? Because publication cuts against the history of silence from which we are descended. Publication makes us seen and heard. This is not only good for who we are as individual women with our unique and complex lives, it also writes women’s experience, the truth of who we are, into history. And it ensures that the next Count will reflect the numbers of women who are producing phenomenal writing.
I founded Writing Women’s Lives™ with this goal in mind. To meet every woman I work with at exactly where she is as a writer. And from that perfect place, set her on her unique path toward publication and a phenomenal writing life.