The Plight of the Woman Writer

Erin Belieu, of Vida: Women in Literary Arts, posted a really revealing article last week over at XX factor about the plight of women writers—and the news is not good. It’s the kind of info that would prompt any woman pursuing an English writing major to check out her dual degree options. The article dons stats that expose New Republic for publishing a scant 32 women, compared to 160 men,  when considering book reviews, poetry and non-fiction that was featured between February and September of this year. But here is the real coup de grace:

The numbers generally indicate that if you’re a writer who happens to be a woman in any genre, you’d better be ready to spend your time clapping politely as your male friends pick up the majority of significant prizes, grants, awards, publications, and review coverage.

While it’s true that many women who feel called to write aren’t in it for the glory, the key point that the XX post raises is that this monetary and critical recognition often enjoyed by men would enable women to sustain a writing career over a lifetime. But before we start thinking about lifetimes, how about providing monetary recognition one book at a time? One of the greatest challenges I have observed many young women writers face is the struggle to balance self sufficiency with uninterrupted writing time. The kind of time that lends itself to thorough revisions and the thorough thought process that generates great ideas. This time is often eaten up by the side hustles and part-time work women often have to do to pick up the slack of weak advances that simply don’t cover rent, utilities, food and the like.

More grants to supplement the shrinking supply of book advances would really make an impact on the lives of many young women writers. I am thinking something along the lines of a gendered Guggenheim for new and upcoming women writers who lack the extensive experience currently required for their fellowships. This grant could recognize great writing by women and give them a year to turn around a project they were passionate about. Along with grants, funders could partner with kickass organizations like SheWrites, to ensure that women don’t just have the availability to write but the support system they need along the way.

What kind of  support, monetary, network-based or other, would you need to make your dream career come true?

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