A Literary Watchdog
by Emily Jaeger, Features Editor
In the online literary arena, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts stands apart. Many literary websites promote individual artists, curate resources for writers, or are literary journals. VIDA, however, takes on the unique role of watchdog for gender equity in literary publication. The VIDA Count, which the site conducts annually, tallies the number of female authors, journalists, and reviewers published each year in renowned publications, including Harper’s, The New Yorker, and Tin House.
VIDA began humbly in 2009 as a group email. Cate Marvin, author of three books of poetry (Oracle, Fragment of the Head of a Queen, and World’s Tallest Disaster), reached out to a number of her fellow female writers about the state of women in literature. The responses to her original email eventually led to the creation of the VIDA Count in collaboration with poets Erin Belieu and Ann Townsend.
Eight years later, VIDA is now helmed by by a diverse board of directors, including Gabrielle Bellot, Holly Burdorff, and Hafizah Geter. Says board member Lynn Melnick: “[W]e evolved once our founding members stepped away. Our board has changed and grown into a more diverse one that is run collaboratively and has assumed a more intersectional approach to feminism.”
It is hard to measure the affect that VIDA has had on the literary community. Amy King, poet and VIDA board member, writes: “One of VIDA’s principles is to shine a light where some would rather not look. We hope that what is illuminated through this work moves everyone to ask for more.” VIDA has inspired editors, such as Rob Spillman of Tin House, to take a closer look at their submissions and solicitations. VIDA’s reports show that some magazines have greatly improved in gender equality over the past few years of analysis (while others have not).
For writers seeking publication and also for those interested in supporting literary magazines through subscription and readership, the VIDA Count is a helpful tool to determine which magazines merit support on the basis of equitable publication practices. For those at the helm of publications not included in the VIDA Count, the website provides an opportunity for awareness and education about gender issues in publishing at large.
In 2015, the VIDA Count made significant improvements to their tally through deeper attention to intersectionality between gender and other identities: “we [now] examine race and ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and ability.” In addition to the updated annual count, the website now features a growing collection of pertinent videos, essays, and interviews with a focus on contemporary, feminist authors. It is a bit challenging to navigate the different categories of articles and resources because of overlap. For example, there seems to be little difference between the feature categories “VIDA Exclusive,” “Bettering American Poetry,” and “Reports from the Field.”
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The features themselves, however, are stellar both in content and the caliber of writers they represent. A recent post, “Patricia Smith—VIDA Voices and Views,” includes a video of a delightful, hour-long interview by Melissa Studdard with poet and fiction writer Patricia Smith (!). Studdard’s astute questions and Smith’s insights lead to profound moments such as Smith’s claim that “I kind of think of poetry as a second throat.”
Readers can keep up to date with the VIDA Count by subscribing to their newsletter or following them on Facebook. They are also always looking for volunteers to help them tally results for the annual report.
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