March 18, 2011

Female author wins award, still gets ignored


Jennifer Egan: winner

Earlier this month, Brooklyn-based novelist Jennifer Egan was awarded the National Book Critics Award for her most recent novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad. However, as reported on Jezebel, instead of celebrating Egan’s achievement, the LA Times decided to interpret the story from a somewhat different angle. They instead chose to highlight the fact that Jonathan Franzen did not win the award. Not only did the story focus on his loss, but the main photo used was of Franzen himself, rather than Egan, the winner. In the UK, we roll out the word ‘gobsmacking’ for instances like these.

This decision to focus on poor J-Franz rather than celebrating Jennifer Egan’s victory is especially worrying considering statistics published last month by VIDA, the organisation for Women in Literary Arts. Their analysis reveals that not only are male authors more likely to be published in the first place, but that books written by men are much more likely to be reviewed in major publications in print and online, and furthermore, the people writing these reviews are also overwhelmingly male.

A woman wins a literary prize, and yet a man gets the attention? This state of affairs is frustrating and deeply troubling, and reignites the question, what do female authors have to do to get recognition for their work? It seems if you take the same view as the LA Times, not even winning an award is enough.

The picture to the right shows the LA Times story as it first appeared several days ago. They have since changed the photo used in their story to a headshot of Egan and her novel. For those interested in more information and analysis, please refer to Bookslut’s excellent series of posts on the VIDA statistics.