As a reader of Room you probably have long known there is a bias against women publishing in Canada. It's part of our very raison d'être here at Room. If any of us had started to imagine gender gaps in the literary world were closing, a new accounting of reviews in Canadian journals makes for a sobering read. While we don't like to be right about something so wrong, we are happy to have the new organization Canadian Women in Literary Arts shed light and take action on the issue.
Founded in the Spring of 2012, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) takes its inspiration from the organization VIDA, which publishes an annual accounting of reviews of books by men and women, and shows continuous and profound gender gaps in American journals.
"Editors and reviewers make choices. That’s their job," writes CWILA founder Gillian Jerome. "And for better or worse the choices they make matter deeply, not only to the public trajectory of individual authors and books, but also, and more importantly, to the quality and tone of our national conversation about the arts."
The tone of that conversation is decidely in the lower registers, judging by their statistician-vetted numbers. Accounts range from the not-so-surprising offenders like the National Post (32% of books reviewed were written by women, and only a quarter of the reviewers are female), to some of our favourite Canadian journals (Geist, 38% women writers, 40% female reviews; Brick 37%, 28% respectively).
"The numbers and charts on this web site tell a compelling story about the Canadian literary climate for women," writes Lorri Neilsen Glenn, one of the over 70 Canadian women poets, novelists, essayists and scholars who collectively brought CWILA into being. "Underneath those numbers, however, are social patterns and practices whose influences weave a complicated net."
CWILA aims to challenge those patterns, starting with engaging a Critic-In-Residence. You can become a member for the (optional) fee of $25, which will support the organization and the residency.
Rachel Thompson is a collective member of Room. Her book of poetry, Galaxy, won SFU's 1st Book Competition in 2011.