Are male authors more likely to have their books reviewed in influential newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors?
They are according to the VIDA count, an analysis of major book reviewing publications in North America and Europe. Australian publications fair little better, as statistics gathered by Bookseller & Publisher and republished in Crikey in March 2012 demonstrate. Yet in late 2011, when Tara Moss mentioned this gender imbalance on her blog, a literary reviewer from The Age accused her of “privileged whining”.
Another who commented on Moss’s blog was Elizabeth Lhuede. Lhuede knew that it wasn’t just male readers and reviewers who were guilty of gender bias. An analysis of her own reading had revealed she too read fewer books by women, especially Australian women. Part of the problem, she knew, was one of awareness. When she went to find books at her local library, the weekend staff couldn’t name one living Australian female author. So, if books by Australian women aren’t being reviewed, how do readers know what they’ve published? How do they know to ask for them at libraries and book shops? How would they know to recommend them to friends?
In the lead up to 2012, Australia’s National Year of Reading, Lhuede decided to do something to help redress this imbalance and raise awareness of Australian women’s writing. Encouraged by an unpublished Indigenous author in the Blue Mountains, she created the Australian Women Writers Challenge (AWW). Via Twitter and Facebook, email and websites, she contacted librarians, booksellers, publishers, book bloggers, English teachers and authors, and invited them to examine their reading habits, and commit to reading and reviewing more books by Australian women throughout 2012.
Before long, over 350 participants had signed up for the challenge and links to reviews began to appear on the AWW blog. Dozens of links. Hundreds. By mid 2012, the Mr Linky system chosen to display the new reviews was overloaded: people had to scroll down a seemingly endless list of names and links to find recent reviews.
Recognising the potential to contribute something long-lasting to Australia’s literary culture, Lhuede asked for help. A team of book bloggers formed, including specialists in diverse genres and interest areas. These book bloggers agreed to host another challenge in 2013, and to continue to support and promote books by Australian women. With their encouragement and advice, Lhuede switched to a new website and a new method of uploading links to reviews. Individuals worked behind the scenes, updating spreadsheets which enabled books reviewed for the challenge to be displayed (see Review Listings). The team agreed on roles and tasks, including to write regular “round-up” posts for different genres throughout 2013.
By end of 2012 the challenge had attracted national – and even international – attention.
- 1500+ reviews linked to the blog
- Round-up of 2012 releases on Huffington Post Books blog
- Overland journal declares 2012 The Year of Australian Women Writers – thanks to The Stella Prize and the Australian Women Writers Challenge
- Radio National Drive mentions the challenge on Friday night Twitterati segment
- Popular Sydney Morning Herald blog, Daily Life, identifies the challenge as one of the 20 Great Moments for Women in 2012
By early 2013, nearly 450 readers had signed up to the challenge to read only, or to read and review. Each week during 2013, the team of AWW volunteers has posted “round-ups” of reviews linked to the challenge. By the end of June, over 1100 reviews have been linked to the challenge. While most of the reviews have been of contemporary fiction titles, over 200 have been classified as “literary” or “classic”, including most of the titles long listed for the 2013 Stella Prize and Miles Franklin awards. (You can read a break down of the genres reviewed here.) At this rate, the 2013 challenge is on track to surpass the 2012 challenge in terms of the number of reviews.
Updated July, 2013