January 21, 2014
The Critical Flame will dedicate one year to women writers and writers of color
by Andrew McGrath
The Critical Flame, a literary journal founded in 2008, announced that it will spend one year focusing its review coverage on women writers and writers of color, beginning in May. Citing critics and activists who have argued for greater critical representation—especially the organization VIDA, which tracks “the rates of publication between women and men in many of our writing world’s most respected literary outlets”—editor Daniel Pritchard announced the decision in an editor’s note published on Sunday.
Pritchard defines the problem not as one of silence, as gender representation in criticism has been written about across the literary spectrum from print publications like The Nation to book blogs like The Millions, but as a problem with “inertia,” going on to say:
“Many editors seem immobilized by their options: either admit their failings and allow a bruise to the ego, or brush off the critique with grand claims about quality and editorial judgment. In one iteration, an unappealing act of self-flagellation that may well harm their own publication by alienating certain cultural power centers. In the other, adherence to a relatively painless status quo. Duty in conflict with conscience creates a difficult choice, even for the most moral person.”
Staffed by volunteers with independent sources of income, The Critical Flame recognized that it was in the ideal position to take this risk.
Other publications seem eager to address gender inequality as well. In April, Pamela Paul was appointed editor the New York Times Book Review, which reviewed 237 books by female authors and 488 by male authors in 2012. Soon after being appointed, Paul said that diversity was “extremely important and, in September, the Book Review began publishing Bookends, series of columns by five men and five women. The New Yorker, which briefly noted 58 female authors and 138 male authors in 2012, recently weighed in on this issue too, with a profile on Jennifer Weiner, author and vocal spokeswoman for equality in publishing. Weiner often promotes lesser-known women writers and highlights issues that she believes keep women from being as well represented as men. In September, Roxane Gay wrote about broadening the literary conversation through the promotion of authors such as Jesmyn Ward for The Nation.
While all of these are promising signs of change, it’s as Pritchard says: “Silence on this literary disparity has not been the problem over the past few years. Inertia has.” To praise these efforts is one thing, but to actively support them is another. As Gay has previously mentioned, there is no shortage of writers of color; nor is there one of women writers, or LGBT writers. As a smaller journal, The Critical Flame’s decision may not directly bring about any major changes in publishing, but it is bold move and a good starting point.