Read More Female Writers!

When it comes to dealing with other people’s reading habits, something that has always bothered me is the way so many readers of fiction largely ignore women writers, whether consciously or unconsciously. I always think to myself: I must be dreaming! This is 2012, and this is still going on? Yet I’ve encountered (and continue to encounter) quite a few male readers who simply just don’t read any at all (maybe a short story by Flannery O’Connor or two, and maybe some Joyce Carol Oates, maybe). It just seems really extraordinary to me.

Obviously, there is something to be said here about patriarchy and how women have been stifled and silenced throughout history when it comes to writing, philosophy, the arts, the Western canon, etc. The other day, I came across these statistics that detail the gender breakdown of contributions to the biggest literary journals around. Shocked? Well, I suppose you could reasonably guess the results without even looking. I know I did. But the gender disparity is still fairly alarming regardless, and the divide is far more gaping than I imagined. There have been several responses to these statistics already, with both editors and readers alike trying to come up with possible solutions to address these problems. Other relevant questions might be: How many men actually submit to these magazines in comparison to women? If more men do (which I suspect is the case), why is that? Do women still feel powerless in their attempts to become great literary writers, or is their attention simply focused elsewhere? Or both?

I remember once coming across a particular male reader’s blog discussing how few women writers he has given the time of day. It went something like this: “I’ve noticed I don’t read female writers at all, but I think that’s simply a coincidence. It’s just the type of books I like.” Honestly, with all the women writers I can name (even those considered “literary”), I don’t think that’s a very convincing argument.

And what about the newer and upcoming online literary journals? Is this disparity the same for them, or is it becoming more equal? This is just based on my own observations (no official statistics here or anything), but I do suspect there may be a much more equal gender representation among these journals, than say, The New Yorker.

With that said, I think it would be great if people actively tried to search out more books by female authors this year. As of now, I’ve only read one novel so far, but at least I can safely say that that is, in fact, just a coincidence (back in 2011, I actually read more female writers than I did male writers). There are many on my to-read list already, and I look forward to getting to them. Particularly Carson McCullers, who I’ve grown to love very much recently.

The World Elephant

I’ve been following Allison Hipple’s writing for some time now. Her blog has always been full of fantastic things, and I’ve always felt safe there. Recently, she decided to record some of her poetry readings on a CD and send it out to anyone that wants a copy. She’s saving up for a trip to Europe right now, so you can give a little back if you want (or perhaps do a trade-off and send her a copy of your own writing?). I expect interesting literary experiments to happen in her travels. Maybe someday there will be a book from those experiences? I really need something of hers on my bookshelf too.

I received her CD the other day and have listened to it a few times already. She’s a very careful observer, and it also helps that her voice is like a lullaby. She reads her words very slowly and clearly. It’s been like therapy. She drew the cover art too, which features her world elephant at the center.

She also wrote me a note, and on the back of it, she has her own official stamp: an elephant and a quill. Fun fact: I also have soft, feminine hands that people have written poems about.

Dear Cami Park,

I never knew you personally or even about your online writing presence until it was too late. It’s already been a year or so after your passing, and it was Anaïs who first introduced me – she wrote a tribute to you on her blog about how much she misses you and your words, how she’s still in disbelief that there won’t be anything new. Since then, I’ve gone through your archives several times and have voraciously eaten up all of your short short fiction and poetry. And, since then, your words still linger in my mind from time to time. It was pretty extraordinary how immediately taken in I was. You were colorful, you were haunting, you were even hilarious. From reading all the other comments and tributes, I wasn’t entirely alone in the way I felt, and it’s obvious how you were a big supporter of other online writers as well.

It’s a shame I never got to speak with you. Nonetheless, I still miss you anyway. I miss the fact that I never got to know you, and I miss the fact that there will be no more writing. I miss the fact that I will never be able to have a book of yours on my shelf.

Your poem, “Eating Heart,” seems so eerily relevant now, in retrospect:

Rare is best. Let it
hit fire, and it becomes tough,

A still-beating heart
imparts an unrealistic optimism. Its
flavor will be strong, of blood
and salt.

The heart that lies like a stone
in your hand should not be used
for cooking—

Bury it in the farthest corner
of the yard. Place over it a large rock,
to protect the animals.

When you awaken with a pain
in your breast, you know your heart
is almost done. Serve with rosemary,
for remembrance.

Some other favorites of mine:
1. Windowers
2. Slut Whore
3. Everyone the Same But Not at Once

Thanks for your words, Cami. Your writing will always have a special place at this blog.