Reading Monet’s post from Friday, made me want to post about something I first heard about last week.
The volunteer editors of Wikipedia decided that the American Novelist category was becoming too long and decided to move the female authors to a new page named American Women Novelists.
This little change may not have been discussed or even noticed, if it wasn’t for Amanda Filipacchi who discovered the change and wondered how come there weren’t two pages created, one for American Male Novelists and one for American Women Novelists. She wrote an Op-Ed about it for the New York Times and shortly after, that’s exactly what happened.
So you would think then that this was just an honest mistake. The editors of Wikipedia just weren’t sensitive to how wrong it is to qualify books by the gender of the author. But it doesn’t end here.
As Filipacchi describes in a NYT follow-up article, her Wikipedia page was altered. In twenty-four hours, there were 22 changes. Links to outside sources like interviews and reviews were removed. The link to the Op-Ed disappeared. Before this, her page had been changed 22 times over a period of four years. Much wiki-cyber bullying later and Filipacchi’s back on the list of American Novelists, but says, “Taking women’s names off the list of American novelists makes it harder and slower for women to gain equality in the literary world.”
To me, the Wikipedia incident is just another example that shows we still have work to do before women gain full equality, not just in the literary world, but everywhere.
My office at work is in a cluster of six with a student study area in the middle. The day after I’d heard about Filipacchi’s articles, I passed by the whiteboard in the study part and saw an old joke I first encountered years ago while I was a physics undergraduate student. Here’s the joke: Read more »
A profile of Susan McCarty, and her story, “Fellowship.”
I wanted to tell the story of a girl who is really starting to struggle against the values of the culture around her in a way that was bound up with, but not directly caused by, her parents’ impending divorce. I wasn’t interested in revisiting specific details or scenes from my own life, but I did draw on my own emotional experience of my parents’ divorce when I was eighteen. I was interested in that moment when everything seems to be stretched to the breaking point, that moment right before the release of this person into the world, just before her escape. But I was uninterested in moralizing that tension. Sometimes it feels like every story about a teenage girl who has sex ultimately ends with the girl dropping out of high school, pregnant and alone and, yes, that’s a reality for some girls, but ultimately the dominance of that narrative in our culture speaks more to a fear of female sexuality and the resulting desire to control it. I’m interested in another narrative, where girls have sex and parents and boyfriends disappoint them, and life goes on.
in case you missed it, rachel shteir wrote a piece for the new york times sunday book review this week, and it caused quite a little shit storm here in chicago. i’ll give you a moment to stop & really contemplate that first sentence there. because (a) the fact that a book review can get all corners of this city all kinds of fucking riled up is pretty awesome, and kinda undercuts part of shteir’s premise, and (b) the fact that a book review agitates this city more than our murder problem or budget problem or corruption problem is pretty awful, and kinda underscores part of shteir’s premise. unfortunately for both chicago & shteir, the review in question was about as deftly written as the wall scratchings of nyc sewer rats.
if that sounds harsh, forgive me. but if shteir insists on such vitriolic writing, i’m afraid that nothing less than responding in kind will get her new-york-state-of-mind attention. when a brouhaha erupted after her piece’s publication, shteir claimed in a wttw interview that her piece was a “polemic” and then bemoaned the fact that perturbed chicagoans failed to focus on the “book review” part of her “book review” (a contradiction on the most obvious level). but one only needs to watch that wttw interview to see that her protests ring false, and that she was clearly enthralled by her moment in the limelight. and i think that is what got under our collective blue collar in chicago.
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An interview with Erin Belieu, from Willow Springs 71
I am very aware of anger—of female anger—as transgressive. And female anger is something that’s not spoken to often in poetry. Or anywhere, really. I think of women artists who’ve addressed this feeling directly and the backlash is usually intense. Very much a how-dare-you reaction. Which is absurd when you think of how surrounded we are by expressions of male anger in our culture. How venerated they are. Male rage is cool! But female rage is still disturbing, displacing, abject, unnatural. Except it’s not. It’s normal. And more than any other poem I’ve written, people come up to me and say, “Thank you for writing the Red Dress poems. They’ve meant a lot to me.” Which is about the nicest compliment anyone can ever give you.
i make no reference whatsoever to this book here.
the other day i was taking the L to work in the morning, reading an issue of another chicago magazine. a guy on the train walks up in front of me, crouches a bit to get a better look at the cover—his head and torso kinda awkwardly tilted sideways—and held that position for a bit.
“it’s a lit mag,” i said.
“oh, i know!” he exclaimed. ”i tried reading that shit! but i had to throw it away! what’s with all the sad young writers?!? can’t any of ‘em write a story that isn’t so damn sad?”
“umm…this is my stop.”
but the guy sorta had a point. and it was hard not to take said point personally. the issue i happened to be reading was one focusing on chicago writers, and though i didn’t have any work in it, i was kinda one of ‘em. which is to say, i don’t really write happy stories.
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in a recent interview with wired, the wildly successful futurist guy tim o’reilly said “I don’t really give a shit if literary novels go away. They’re an elitist pursuit.” as you can imagine, that resulted in a bit of backlash from literary circles, such as john warner’s piece in printers row. in the comments section of that wired article, o’reilly tried to backpedal a bit from his statement, saying it was taken out of context, and that he “loves” fiction. i think the important thing to note was that he was trying to compare literary novels to classical music, saying that novels don’t need special protection “And that when we got this mindset that classical music needed special funding and protection, it became increasingly disconnected from what people really wanted to hear.”
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“Great Writers,” my mother says, “are vessels or conduits who are able to open themselves to stories and language outside of their own experience.” I believe this idea — that men can write truthfully and realistically about women, that a woman writer can capture the voice of a man, that any aspect of diversity can be accurately portrayed by a writer with empathy, sensitivity, and an eye for detail. I believe this, but I don’t want to be this kind of writer. I don’t want to be great.
Joyce Carol Oates is great. There is no denying her mastery of craft. In 2001, I picked up We Were the Mulvaney’s because it was still impressive to me when a book had Oprah’s book club seal on the front, and I was not disappointed. Even as a 16 year-old high school student, I could recognize a caliber of writing above most of the teen angst books I was reading at the time. And yet, I didn’t read another book by Oates again for years because every time I happened upon one, as I was drifting down the library aisle or reading reviews online, the overriding theme of tragedy in her books put me off. No, I don’t need a book with a happy ending – Kazou Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go has one of the saddest endings in a book I’ve read in a long time but I love it still. Nor am I opposed to a certain level of depravity, moral decay and perversity in writing, these are real facets of being human, the reality of what often lies beneath the surface and must be represented — But do I have to read about it? Read more »
An interview with Blake Butler, from Willow Springs 71
I know a lot of people in revision will read their work out loud to see what it sounds like, but I never do. I think I like more the way sentences connect together. I mean, I like interesting sentences, but that’s a given. I’m more interested in how a sentence can reflect an image and then the next sentence comes from that sentence and slightly alters the image. There Is No Year came from one image. The book starts with the mother and father sitting next to each other on the sofa without touching, very close, and that was where the book came from. An image. And I describe the image the way it made sense to describe it, and then started another page, writing scene after scene, and the language was important the whole time and sound was important the whole time and rhythm is what makes me type, because I’m not thinking, you know, just kind of running through what comes to me, analyzing it as I go, you know, as a reader, writing it as a writer and a reader at the same time.
I know how in hindsight it’s easy to say I saw the end coming, that I was anticipating it the whole time, that I wasn’t surprised at all, but when I say that I knew how Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl would end, I really mean it.
More surprising to me was despite my intuitive knowing, I was still deeply satisfied (though disturbed) when it was finished, like the final click confirming that indeed the door was locked. It’s over.
But I was bewildered by how uneasy I felt at the end of Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist, a book that sets readers up for all kinds of wild imaginings, but ends quite practically, and it got me thinking about how books end. So I composed a short list of my favorite endings, the ones that make me shake my head and say, “Oh you.” Read more »
it’s march. which means brackets for everygoddamnthing. the tournament of books was a good bit of fun when it first launched in 2004 (and i think it still is). but now we’ve also got all this other shit: book madness, (harper collins canada) march madness, the piglet: the battle of the cookbooks, and the battle of the kids’ books. this is getting ridiculous. i love brackets as much as the next guy, but the problem with all these tournaments is that nobody dies in them. hell, the TOB even has a “zombie round” now where a “disqualified” book gets to make a comeback. wtf, man. what we need here is a little more death in our literary competitions, not resuscitation.
in that vein, i suggest we start a competition that’s more like fight club. two books enter, one book leaves—fucking thunderdome-style. there’s too many shitty books out there anyway. if we do it my way, there’ll be fewer books to read (because once you’re dead, you stay outta print, motherfucker), and the books that remain will inevitably be higher quality. everybody wins. i’ll even help get this started. let’s do this.
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A profile of Alexandra Teague, and her 10 poem movement, “Transcontinental,” from Willow Springs 71
I’m interested with using a variety of forms to enact different types of construction and historical experience, and this series was fun and challenging in that respect. Some of the poems such as “The Workers” found their form fairly quickly, while others such as “Hell-on-Wheels” took a lot more experimenting with line length and how to use the colons for propulsion. This fascination with form is typical of my work, but I’m using syntax and punctuation here a bit differently than I traditionally have—partly because some of the poets that I’ve been reading recently have helped me rethink the use of, for instance, the colon, and partly because the quotations that I wanted to include suggested certain kinds of moves or connections to me. I’ve found for this manuscript that working from sources can be incredibly generative in terms of the structure of poems, and of course the ideas, and I’m continually amazed by the strangeness of historical fact: that “Roving Delia Fish Dance,” for instance, was the actual wording of a coded telegram from the Union Pacific as they raced the Central Pacific toward the meeting of the two railroads in Utah. As my stepmother, also a writer, is fond of saying: “You can’t make this stuff up.”