LivingArts: A Diversity of Voices

When I left my publishing job almost a year ago, I gained the luxury of time. I also gained the fear of losing my footing in the publishing world by no longer working in it daily. Despite staying connected as a book reviewer and freelance editor, I worried about losing ties to an industry in which I spent nearly a decade, and so, I started looking for meaningful ways to stay involved and invested.

It was through this search that I came to (very recently) start volunteering for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA), a “national literary organization for people who share feminist values and see the importance of strong and active female perspectives and presences within the Canadian literary landscape.” One of its goals is to “address the gender gap in Canadian review culture.”

In June 2012, CWILA launched findings from its first CWILA Count, an annual study that documents the rates in which men and women are published in Canadian literature publications. As you can see, the first count revealed that the highest number of reviews were written by men about books written by men.

For context, it’s important to note, the first CWILA Count was launched just a year before author and University of Toronto professor David Gilmour made international headlines after uttering the stomach-churning statement, “I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” also adding that he teaches only “real guys-guys”, “serious heterosexual guys.” The whole thing made a lot of people nauseous, but reminded us all of the gender inequity that exists within in the Canadian literary arts community.

The good news is the 2014 CWILA Count offered more optimistic results, finding that the gender gap is shrinking in Canadian review culture, though gender discrimination does continue to exist in some publications. CWILA is also “continuing to work to improve and nuance our collection of gendered data and gender categories by working to recognize and bring into conversation the work of writers who identify outside the male/female binary.”

This year I’m volunteering for the 2015 CWILA Count, taking part in the painstaking process of combing newspapers and literary magazines. It’s an educational process, forcing me to look at my own bookshelves to see there are diversity gaps in my own reading.

CWILA is just one example of organizations and groups who are working to keep the publishing industry accountable. This spring, the brand-new Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) will launch in Brampton, celebrating diversity in literature by promoting authors from marginalized communities. You can also look to Twitter and other social media networks to see how change is being created on a grassroots level (Just search #WeNeedDiverseBooks as an example).

We have a long way to go before we ensure a diversity of voices in the Canadian literary arts, but I’m hopeful that we’re starting to see a shift.