On VIDA and Encouragement

Earlier today VIDA released its annual count of magazines’ contributors by gender. Once again, men are outpublishing women in large magazines by ridiculous margins. I wish I could say the results are surprising, but I will say it’s interesting—even if they’ve only been counting for a few years—how little change has happened. The message those magazines are sending is clear: They don’t care. If they cared even a little about women in publishing, they would have done something.

When VIDA started counting a few years ago, I’ll admit to being confused about why. I hadn’t noticed a gender disparity in publishing, and that’s in large part, I think now, to my ignoring larger publications. I don’t think I’ve ever truly been interested in reading The New Yorker because The New Yorker is interested in publishing New Yorker-style work and I’m generally bored by New Yorker-style work. I have always found the work being published in smaller, “indie lit” print and online journals to be riskier, both more challenging and inviting—and over and over that work was being written by women. While figuring out this whole publishing thing over the past few years, I don’t know what I would have done without the words of Roxane Gay, Ethel Rohan, Molly Gaudry, Kathy Fish, Elisa Gabbert, and others. Not to mention professors like Pamela Painter, Alden Jones, Morgan Baker, Ladette Randolph, Catherine Bowman, Jacinda Townsend, and Alyce Miller.

I more recently started caring a little more about the count when I took over as Word Riot‘s poetry editor in September. As the only person reading submissions and making decisions, I wanted to be certain that I was being both fair and supportive of differing perspectives. And, as I count my work so far, I think things are going well: In November 2013, the first month of my selections, I published 6 women and 4 men. In December 2013, 4 women and 6 men. In January 2014, 3 women and 6 men. In February 2014, 6 women and 4 men. And though there is room for improvement, I also feel pretty good about the number of queer poets and poets of color that I’ve published.

The fine print: All of the poets I’ve published are excellent writers. There is no lack of quality.

And I report this not to brag, but to encourage more women to submit their work—to Word Riot, to Gabby, to Indiana Review, to wherever you want to be published. The submissions I receive at Word Riot and Gabby are overwhelmingly male; the submissions I publish are not.

All this to say: What we need to do in the publishing community is encourage *all* writers to join in. Counting is only the first step. I’d love to see a culture of assurance: Your writing is important. Your writing may get rejected now and again, but your writing deserves to be read. And you have to have that faith yourself. You have to keep submitting.

When I send encouraging rejections from Word Riot, there’s a strong chance I’ll only see more poems from that poet if that poet was male. And that’s ridiculous. Ladies, you matter. Ladies, keep sending.

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