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  • Hey Girls! Meet the White Men Who Were Just Named A Jury Of Your Peers!
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Hey Girls! Meet the White Men Who Were Just Named A Jury Of Your Peers!
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
February 2010
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
February 2010

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: http://shelf-life.ew.com/2010/02/17/exclusive-houghton-mifflin-announces-new-best-american-guest-editors/

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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  • Kathleen Sweeney

    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!

  • Robin Kemp

    same old same old...

  • Lillian Ann Slugocki

    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.

  • Lillian Ann Slugocki

    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."

  • Susan David Bernstein

    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.

  • Julie Maloney

    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?

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    I have an idea for a positive action we can take in response to this -- going to write a post about it now!

  • Bernice L. McFadden

    This just turns my stomach!

  • K. A. Laity

    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 :-)

  • Carleen


  • Sharon Cathcart

    Women writing, for the most part, is apparently viewed as "cute." Men who write are viewed as "serious." I suspect this has to do with the proliferation of so-called "chick lit." I could be wrong, but it is frustrating.

    To me, the assumption that a female author is not serious is the equivalent of assuming that all women like to eat salads.


  • Alice Elliott Dark

    I love this! Boy do I feel this all around. Things are worse than they were 30 years ago. Now that women are equal, it's okay to make them unequal. What are we gonna do--bitch about it?
    As far as I can see the old boy network has broadened to include successful guys, bestseller guys, white or not. GUYS.

  • Theresa M. Diamond

    We should lobby for strict gender parity for this anthology committee. Any chance for a Trojan Woman tactic?

  • Renate Stendhal

    It's the same old story, isn't it? Glad there is some fresh energy to make some noise about it, Kamy and everyone else!
    Take comfort from Gertrude Stein who already knew that story by heart: "Men can not count, they do not know that two and two make four if women do not tell them so." (Last Operas and Plays)

  • Brooke Linville

    To be fair, the Best American Nonrequired Reading panel is also made up of a fairly diverse panel of high school students: http://bestamericannonrequiredreading.blogspot.com/

  • Meg Waite Clayton

    >And what can we DO!!??? I am working on that one.

    Me too. Although it could be worse. We could be "lady" writers as the "lady" figure skaters, speed skaters, and even snowboarders are to the Olympic Committee. I'm sure those snow boarders, at least, are really into upholding the implications of good behavior that my Websters assures me that term implies.


  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Thank you for these comments, all! I cracked up reading about mansplaining (everyone should check out that link from Julie), and at the same time I just felt a little exhausted, like, how many times can we talk about this, and it just keeps happening the same old way? And what can we DO!!??? I am working on that one.

  • Julie Polk

    Aarrgh. But this is an awesome post, Kamy - and I think you're so dead-on about the lack of consciousness being an even tougher nut to crack (so to speak... not that I'm, erm, suggesting anything...) than an actual conspiracy. I keep finding that the conversation that gets people to see there's an issue at all is a much harder one than the one pointing out why the issue is an issue.

    There was an interesting related conversation recently on YA author Justine Larbalestier's blog, on the topic of mansplaining. Worth a look:


  • K. A. Laity

    If I were Gaiman or Eggers, I'd start to worry about the effects of editing on the crowning glory -- correlation between editorial panels and hair loss? ;-)

  • Bev Murrill

    Prejudice runs far deeper than guys understand. They don't even know this is bias to the deepest degree.

  • Cynthia L. Williams

    Well, while that certainly looks like a fun bunch of guys, I'm not applying for a membership card to
    that club anytime soon.
    "The Best American (fill in the blank)" is slightly subjective at best and limited by each of these fella's reading taste at worst.
    No doubt, it's a game with loaded dice and most writers aren't even on their table. Not their fault, just common sense.
    I'm writing my first novel that centers on a female hero who doesn't ask to be noticed,she takes action to be seen.
    I'd like to be more like her.
    I say we stop staring through the fences and start our own team.
    She Writes is a potentially powerful stage for a new era in the publishing voice. Let's make some noise.

  • K. A. Laity

    Gaah! On top of Bob Marshall's remarks and the whole SuperBowl manly men ads, I really feel like I've been dragged back into a time warp.

  • Rachel Thompson

    HI Kamy...while I (and I'm sure many others) have a number of these talented writers on my shelf, I can't help but wonder who exactly chose this panel? I continue to shake my head in disbelief at this astonishing lack of inclusion of female writers this past year on panels, in prizes, etc.

    My ten-year old daughter is doing an historical figure report on Clara Barton--perhaps I shall have her send it on to the powers that be at both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Publisher's Weekly for a lesson in equality.