And yet there are women writers of literary fiction: the species, however endangered, has not as yet been eradicated. Perhaps this recent batch of book awards was simply an anomaly? Perhaps our apprehensions about the ways in which fiction by women is received are merely symptomatic of some feminist dementia?
In fact, as so often happens, the statistics outdo one’s grisliest paranoias. In last year’s New York Review of Books, twenty-five books of fiction by men were reviewed and only ten books by women–in essays written by three times as many men as women. In 1997, The New Yorker printed thirty-seven stories by men, ten by women; Harper’s Magazine printed nine stories by men, three by women. Since 1992, the Editors’ Choice lists in The New York Times Book Review, arguably the most powerful voice in the book-review chorus, have included twenty-two books of fiction by men and eight by women. Since 1980, sixteen men and two women have won the PEN/Faulkner Award; and fourteen men and four women, the National Book Award. No works of fiction by women were included among the five finalists for the Los Angeles Times book prize last year (though the Los Angeles Times’s winner in a category for “first fiction” was a woman, the short-story writer Carolyn Ferrell, who took the prize with the appropriately named collection Don’t Erase Me). And in 1988, when none of the New York Times’s ten best books of the year was by a woman, the editors (who bypassed, for example, Mavis Gallant’s In Transit in favor of “a circus of storytelling” by Milorad Pavic) published this disclaimer: “In case anyone has failed to notice, none of the books on this year’s list is by a woman. Among more than 40 volumes originally nominated by individual editors were many, both fiction and nonfiction, by women. But none remained among the final choices after two months of weekly discussions.”
What do you want to bet the numbers would look like if we ran them today, eleven years later?
But, remember: don’t say anything bad about any male writers here, living or dead, no matter what stupid or vicious things they wrote about women or feminists! They were all brilliant men, beyond reproach, so don’t say it! Because that’s all in the past, and we just want to move on. This isn’t a history blog, or a feminist blog. La-di-dah!