Chelsea Novak's Blog

Women Count

Two weeks ago, VIDA, an origination for women in the literary arts, released the results of a survey in which they counted the number of women and men contributing work to 13 literary magazines (11 from the US and 2 from the UK) over the course of 2011. They also counted the number of women and men who reviewed books, and the number of women and men whose books were reviewed. It would be a bit much to say that the results were shocking, since they were nearly the same as the numbers from 2010, but the release of the survey results has sparked conversation.

After learning about the VIDA count from Quill & Quire’s twitter, I decided I wanted to do my own count. I wasn’t the only woman who felt this way. Just before I began to type this post I was contacted by my friend andrea bennett, an editor at PRISM international, who was interested in doing the same thing and who’d found out I had already started compiling stats. Together we came up with a count for the latest issues of 13 Canadian magazines, including the magazines we work for.

Dandelion 37.1

Event Winter 2011

Front&Centre #26

Geist 83

Maisonneuve Winter 2011

OCW 6.1/#20

Poetry is Dead Issue 02, Volume 02

PRISM international 50.2/Winter 2012

Quill & Quire January/February 2012

Room 35.1

subTerrain #60:

This Magazine March-April 2012

The Walrus March 2012

The good news is that it’s not all bad in Canada. Five of the thirteen magazines we looked at had either an equal number of female and male contributors, or more female contributors than male contributors. Granted, one of those magazines was Room, which only publishes women.

Obviously looking at one issue of each magazine is not statistically conclusive, but I think it gives us a fair place to start. As the managing editor of Geist, I can say that the numbers here are fairly typical of a Geist issue, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that the same is true of the other publications listed. Time will tell, as andrea bennett, myself and others have started a plan to do a full count of these 13 magazines in 2012.

But keeping track of where we’re at is not going to solve the problem. Being aware of the problem is a first step; the next one is to start developing a dialogue.

I spent International Women’s Day at the Joy Kogawa House, celebrating the 35th anniversary of Room magazine, where the evening started off with a mention of the VIDA count. Amber Hitchen, a Room editor, addressed the question of whether or not it was still necessary to have a magazine like Room. After all, things are different now, right? We have equality, don’t we? The VIDA count shows us that this is clearly not the case.

During the reading, members of the audience were invited to ask the readers questions once they’d finished. A woman in the audience asked the poet Katherine Poyner-Del Vento if she thought that women were published less often because they had more responsibilities in the home and therefore less time to write. Poyner-Del Vento had been explaining that she is a teacher, and that her students often take up a lot of her time.

Each reader at the Joy Kogawa House that night sparked a conversation with her reading and with the details of her life as she revealed them in the question period. Taryn Thomson read her story “The Game” and started a discussion about high school, and boys, and self-esteem or lack thereof. There was a buzz in the air that happens when people with something in common are finally all together and can talk about the things that they can’t talk about with other people.

We need more than numbers. We need discourse, and I can’t think of a better place for that to happen than in Canadian literary magazines. All editors and publishers need to start considering equality of gender and race as part of their editorial mandate. No more excuses, no more denial. No more silence.

Take a second look at the numbers and you’ll see that while a higher number of men are often reviewed, women are often doing more of the reviewing. It’s time we start putting our feet down. If we’re going to be editing, and fact-checking and proof-reading, then we can make sure that women have an equal chance of being published.



Kris Rothstein's Blog
Kris Rothstein

VIFF 2019: MODES 1

A collection of experimental short films encourages immersion in image and sound.
Geist news

Winners of the 15th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest!

Announcing the winners of the 15th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest!
Michael Hayward's Blog
Michael Hayward

VIFF 2019: "Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom"

A young Bhutanese teacher, wrestling with his commitment to that career, is sent to the remote Himalayan village of Lunana, to fulfill the final year of his contract.