You can easily finish this sentence: why are so few women writers reviewed in The New York Times? Included in literary quarterlies? Republished in anthologies? Given major prizes?
VIDA’s pie charts remind me of what I already know and have known for a long time: if you are a woman writer, you had best stick to short stories where at least you stand a better chance of being published and even read.
As a committed short story writer—my next collection, my fourth, “Mending: New and Selected Short Stories” will be published by Sarabande Books in August—I write in this form because I love it, and because the writers I most admire—Katherine Ann Porter, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Mansfield—have lighted me along the way.
And of course I’m glad that because I write short stories (as well as plays, novels, essays and a memoir), I’m more likely to be published in this genre.
But I wonder: why is this? There are as many of us writing in other fields—why are we neglected?
I think the explanation lies in one phrase: LITTLE JEWELS.
Every since my first collection was published, in the 1960’s, I have dreaded the moment when an admiring reviewer will call my short stories LITTLE JEWELS.
There’s no conscious condescension here, but a great deal of unconscious stereotyping: women have small concerns (especially if we write, as I do, about women and from women’s point of view) and these small concerns are best displayed in jewel tones, in jewel sizes: small, perfect, not likely to rouse a storm of appreciation or disapproval.
Of course this is a travesty. Look at O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard To Find”, which ends with an atrocious murder; Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”, taking on the hypocrisies of class; Katherine Ann Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”-near death in the 1917 flu epidemic—or “The Wedding”, from my next collection—the near death of madness—and you will relish the scope, intensity and ambition that make short stories so important.
So we persist, breasting the tide that always seems to flow in another direction, but breasting it in order to swim with a few triumphant strokes into our readers’ imaginations.
For more information, visit VIDA’s The Best American Count.