11 Apr 2012

Are Women Writers Taken Seriously?

No Comments Book Club Notes, Personal Thoughts

Annie Dillard wrote, “At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then–and only then–it is handed to you.” Writers, both male and female, know this. The process can be a mean, exhausting task, but it’s part of the job description.

Interestingly enough, Dillard does not discriminate between male and female authors inĀ The Writing Life; on the contrary, she draws liberally on the experiences of all writers as she describes their sometimes grueling challenges. Nonetheless, many smart women readers seek balance in their authors, trying to spend equal time with writers from both genders.

One of our reading groups this year made a conscious decision to read only prize winning authors, eight in all, four men and four women. We are nearing the end of our journey with only Nadine Gordimer left on the roster, and none of our women disappointed us (Didion, Sontag, and Oates were the others). So, when we read Meg Wolitzer’s essay, “The Second Shelf: Are there different rules for men and women in the world of literary fiction?” we took note of her questions.

Wolitzer begins her essay by asking: “If The Marriage Plot had been written by a woman yet still had the same title and wedding ring on its cover, would it have received a great deal of serious literary attention?” It’s a good question, but considering that Eugenides draws on Jane Austen, a women writer who is taken seriously, it’s hard to answer anything but ‘yes.’ And if you have read Amy Waldman’s The Submission or Nicole Krauss’s History of Love or Great House (just to name a few recent titles), then you know that there are serious, well-received contemporary women authors.

Yet, Wolitzer makes an interesting point: “The top tier of literary fiction–where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters into the public imagination and current conversation–tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male.” What do you think? Is there a gender bias in literary fiction and how a work is received? Let us hear from you.

written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.
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