January 23, 2018

2018 won’t be “the year of publishing women” after all


Kamila Shamsie (via Robert Burdock on Flickr)

In the more innocent days of June 2015, we wrote about novelist Kamila Shamsie’s call to make 2018 the year that publishers around the world only published books written by women. (Just one mighty publisher, And Other Stories, took her up on the challenge.)

As Shamsie and others noted at the time, year after year studies have shown that men are publishing more books, winning more prizes, writing more reviews (and getting more review attention themselves) than their female peers. The most recent VIDA report noted that the percentage of publications demonstrating gender parity actually dropped from 58% in 2015 to 48% in 2016.

Now, here we are in 2018, and this particular embarrassment—namely, the failures of imagination and inclusivity among the literary establishment—seems almost quaint when thrown against the backdrop of the Women’s March and #MeToo (and, you know, everything else). Still, it’s all connected.

“Of course,” Shamsie told Alison Flood at the Guardian, “I had no idea it would happen as #MeToo was going on. I’m not comparing this to sexual harassment and assault, but if we are talking in larger terms about what it means to be a patriarchal world, well, it’s at every level of our lives.”

The “year of publishing women” was always going to be more a “provocation,” as Shamsie put it, than a practice—books are under contract, writers need and deserve their advances paid out, and publishers have bottom lines that keep them in business—but Shamsie still hopes others will rise to the occasion. “My instinct is that if you do things differently for one year, it will force you to look at the way you make decisions,” she said. “Once you see these things, you can’t unsee them.”



Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.