Hey Girls! Meet the White Men Who Were Just Named A Jury Of Your Peers!

Last week, Barbara Jones, the visionary and all-around fabulous Editorial Director of Hyperion Books and Voice (the imprint of books for women) that published She Writers Julie Metz and Deborah Kogan), sent me an email with the subject line "women are apparently not fit to judge this year." In the body of the email was this link, and all I had to do was read the link to know exactly what it was going to say:


Hmmm -- perhaps all the writers named to edit the Best American anthologies for 2010 are male, and of course, all white? YEP! (I have featured a photo of the ever-charming Christopher Hitchens, known for his ardent admiration of George Orwell, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, and for his excoriating attacks of Mother Teresa and Hillary Clinton), but scroll down to see all the photos of what Houghton Mifflin Harcourt believes is the jury of your peers.

Does this mean that the writers these men will honor in the Best American anthologies they edit will exclude women and minorities? Not likely. Does this mean that there is a conspiracy against women and people of color in the literary elite? Nope -- I'm confident that the omission of non-white dudes from influential positions like these isn't as well organized, carefully considered or conscious as a conspiracy, though in a way I wish it were. Because then I could believe that somebody, somewhere, was even a little bit conscious (just a little!) of how silly, stupid and distorted it is to leave women and non-white men, who do in fact win Pulitzers and National Book Awards (against all odds, apparently), entirely out of powerful positions of editorial influence like these. Did nobody stop to say, hmm, how about that, every single editor we chose is a white man, and hmm, maybe making them the sole judges of one of the most important series of anthologies in this country is kinda like saying women and people of color should not be allowed to vote? (No wonder Christopher Hitchens is a big Thomas Jefferson fan. I guess white male property owners really are smarter than everybody else, and better judges of literature too.) Did any of these men bother to ask whether their fellow editors were a diverse lot? And not "diverse" as code for "white men + one black woman," or as another word for "throwing those women and colored people a bone so they will shut up," but "diverse" like "actually representative of the best literary talent in this country," or "diverse" like "not a replica of a mid-century Shriner's meeting"?

If you are thinking "well perhaps these are simply the 'best' editors, and women should not complain, and there should not be reverse sexism, blah blah blah," think again! It simply isn't possible that there was not a single women writer capable of undertaking this job, and it simply isn't possible that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ever would have done the opposite: imagine if this list named NINE WOMEN and ZERO MEN as the editors of these anthologies. IT JUST ISN'T.

So without further ado, my friends, how about a big round of applause for A Jury Of Your Peers!

The Best American Short Stories 2010: Richard Russo
The Best American Essays 2010: Christopher Hitchens
The Best American Comics: Neil Gaiman
The Best American Nonrequired Reading: Dave Eggers (guest introducer: David Sedaris)
The Best American Science and Nature Writing: Freeman Dyson
The Best American Mystery Stories: Lee Child
The Best American Travel Writing: Bill Buford
The Best American Sports Writing 2010: Peter Gammons
The Best American Noir of the Century: Otto Penzler and James Ellroy (this title, a hardcover, won’t be a part of the annual series — it’s a stand-alone)

(Isn't it AWESOME, by the way, that women can't even get in on the "guest introducer" spot, just as the Publisher's Weekly list of the Best Books of 2009 couldn't see its way clear to giving a woman one of its honorable mentions, either?)


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Comment by Octavia McBride-Ahebee on May 2, 2011 at 9:21pm

My 15-year-old daughter has a greeting card line called Sages from the Past. 

http://www.zazzle.com/28pokou4    My favorite card is the one that features Olaudah Equiano, who wrote his autobiography in 1789 detailing his life as a free boy in Nigeria, his memories of the Middle Passage, his life as a slave in the Caribbean and in Europe and his life as a free man.  On the front of this card is my personal motto-Always Tell Your Own Stories!

Comment by Kathleen Sweeney on March 9, 2010 at 7:03am
Looking forward to hearing more about a way to take this on...given the ways women support the book industry with actual reading purchases, this kind of judging model simply doesn't make sense. Women write, women edit, women buy, women read. Women need to be part of decisions for determining the Best Books!
Comment by Robin Kemp on March 2, 2010 at 6:11pm
same old same old...
Comment by Lillian Ann Slugocki on February 26, 2010 at 11:17am
Not to toot my own horn, but its events like this in publishing, that have inspired me or galvanized me to redress this in the anthology I'm editing: Tales from the Velvet Chamber: Revisioning Fairy-tales and Myth. Its not just about giving authors an opportunity at having a voice, its also about changing that level of consciousness that allows this to happen by rewriting our stories from a position of power, subject not object.
Comment by Lillian Ann Slugocki on February 26, 2010 at 10:45am
Listen, why are we surprised? The "canon" is still mostly white men, dead white men. I rebel against this by deliberately choosing a new canon for my students, one that is certainly far more exclusive--- but its a long haul. I categorically reject the jury of my peers. Perhaps the best way to fight back is to create our own anthologies that include editors as well as writers that more accurately reflect the diversity of excellence in our field. I believe we can and should "use the master's tools to dismantle his house."
Comment by Susan David Bernstein on February 26, 2010 at 5:47am
This lack of consciousness gets perpetuated at different levels still in 2010! Last week my daughter's high school class on European literature received a four-page bibliography of 19th & 20th century titles and authors for them to select a reading from--guess how many women authors are included? Exactly a token *one*--Vera Panova, a Russian writer that my friend who is a professor in 19th-20th c Russian lit has not heard of! Suggestions about what to do? "She Writes" seems a rather surprising concept still.
Comment by Julie Maloney on February 25, 2010 at 8:26pm
I love this! I just checked my Kindle to see what's cooking and I've got novels by: Jane Smiley, Louise Berg, Lorrie Moore and Louise Erdich etc...What are they thinking?
Comment by Kamy Wicoff on February 25, 2010 at 2:44pm
I have an idea for a positive action we can take in response to this -- going to write a post about it now!
Comment by Bernice L. McFadden on February 25, 2010 at 2:12pm
This just turns my stomach!
Comment by K. A. Laity on February 25, 2010 at 1:28pm
Trojan Women? Lament, suffer and die as we know we are fated to do -- except, of course, the beautiful Helen (ain't that too often the case)? Are you perhaps thinking of Lysistrata? That might be more effective :-)


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