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September 22, 2006


Thanks for the plug for VQR--and for the astute critique, too. I edit VQR, and I can assure you that diversity, including gender equity, is a constant concern. It's not out of any concern for political correctness or keeping up appearances, but rather because we take on major issues and prefer as many smart, well informed, and divergent perspectives as we can find. Unfortunately, the disparity in our issues is, I think, more reflective of a symptom than a root cause; there simply seem to be fewer women who are freelance journalists, travel writers, and political pundits--three areas that now largely compose our editorial content. As a result, the good ones are in high demand and often out of our price range. I don't begrudge them that, but it makes for a less balanced perspective for our readers. And no one is more troubled by this than I am.

I've taken two primary steps to try to remedy the problem.

First, I have consciously tried to bring balance by featuring women writers in our Symposium series, which has focused thus far on Carol Shields, Adrienne Rich, Alice Munro, and Mavis Gallant (next year). This is one place where the editorial content is dictated entirely by us and not dependent on the work we receive, so we often have dedicated this space to women writers. (This time we have an unpublished poem by Robert Frost and thus feature a man for the first time.)

Second, I actively encourage young women writers to submit to VQR. I go to writers conferences, to young writers seminars, attend readings and book festivals--always with an eye toward women's perspectives, especially in nonfiction. We're starved for great unsolicited nonfiction in general, but we almost never see such work from women. If that's because of the disparity in our current pages, then I want to assure your readers that it is a matter of circumstance, not design. Nothing would make me happier than to see more great work from women writers.

Last but not least, I want to emphasize that VQR has a great history of supporting women. Charlotte Kohler took over as editor at VQR during World War II and guided the magazine for more than three decades. Along the way she discovered writers like Adrienne Rich and Nadine Gordimer. Her successor (my predecessor) Staige D. Blackford continued that tradition by discovering such writers as Ann Beattie and Barbara Kingsolver. I very much want to continue and expand that tradition.

If you or your readers have more suggestions for what VQR can do to foster writing from women, I would welcome your comments. Thanks!

Given what you say, I suppose the question turns to WHY there are "fewer women who are freelance journalists, travel writers, and political pundits." Because it is certainly not just the VQR's table of contents that is heavy on the XY chromosomes--it's disturbingly consistent in all major magazines and journals that aren't explicitly targeting a female audience.

In my experience, high level creative writing and journalism programs have a fairly even gender split, if not a surplus of women. Where do these ambitious, talented writers go?

I have to speculate that despite our society's claims to gender parity in the home, housecleaning and child care remain the assumed domain of women. And that's no small thing--a huge amount of time and energy is consumed with domestic duties. While there's a lot of rhetoric about women choosing careers or "opting out," the same choice is rarely considered for men. This might be one factor in the gender divide in writing.

Similarly, I suspect talented female writers may be mentored into the "tamer" beats--it's okay for women to, say, dabble in poetry, but when it comes to analyzing the U.S's role in Iraq or deconstructing Western volunteerism in Third World countries...that might be more than their pretty heads can handle.

We all know that the most talented writers can handle anything they choose. (We also know that poetry is far from 'tame'). But given the systemic nature of the gender divide for writers, I do believe the causes are systemic...and I'm interested in hearing more ideas on what this looks like.

Ambitious Talented Women out there, I hope you heed the call of Ted Genoways and send out your best work!

And thanks for your thoughtful feedback, Mr. Genoways.

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