What is VIDA: Women in Literary Arts?
Founded by Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu, VIDA’s mission as a research-driven organization is to increase critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture.
Each year The VIDA Count compiles over 1000 data points from the top tier, or “Tier 1” journals, publications, and press outlets by which the literary community defines and rewards its most valued arts workers, the “feeders” for grants, teaching positions, residencies, fellowships, further publication, and ultimately, propagation of artists’ work within the literary community. Volunteers from across the country dedicate thousands of combined hours to compile this information and release the results as our trademark blue and red pie charts. Learn about our methodologies here.
The VIDA Count reveals major imbalances at premiere publications both in the US and abroad. For example: The New York Review of Books covered 306 titles by men in 2010 and only 59 by women; The New York Times Book Review covered 524 books by men compared to 283 books written by women (VIDA Count 2010).
The first VIDA Count encompassed fifteen major journals and publications, plus 81 editions of three Best American anthologies—including overall counts for each of the series’ three separate anthology imprints from the years 1986–2010—for a total of 94 journals, publications, and presses. As part of the 2013 Count, VIDA added a new secondary Count that examined dozens of historically well-established literary magazines. In this way VIDA has extended its reach, adding an even larger sampling of nationally recognized magazines and journals to our database.
How did VIDA begin?
VIDA began when Cate Marvin sent a handful of women writers an email that questioned the current state of women in literature with searing exactitude. One of the recipients, Erin Belieu, struck by Cate’s manifesto, spent hours forwarding the letter to everyone she could think of, spreading the call like wildfire across the virtual world, and the email touched the very deep desire of so many to see their suspicions of publishing disparities rendered visible.
In the email, Cate asked. “Where has the feminist conversation regarding contemporary literature gone? Am I the only one who feels isolated in our writing community? Has anyone else noticed all these incredibly accomplished women writers whose work seems to go consistently unnoticed and unrewarded by the American literary establishment? Why is it that most of the notable reviews being published about contemporary books in every genre are written by men about other men’s books? What will this mean for our daughters, to look at this landscape and find so few women’s voices succeeding in a meaningful way? What are we telling them about their hopes and ambitions? And why is it, she asked, that the vast majority of the major editors, publishers, the literary taste makers at large, seem to be of the male persuasion?”
This sparked a movement. The next morning, Cate called Erin to say that her inbox was flooded with responses from writers who wanted to be involved. Erin writes, “These [writers] came from every shape, size, color and kind of writer, at every level of publication and accomplishment, all women who, too, had been wondering why women writers voices are so marginalized in our literary culture’s conversation...And the question they asked over and over was the same one: what can we do about this?... I remember Cate and I sitting silently for a minute on the phone together. ‘Well,’ she finally said, ‘I guess we’re going to need to start an organization.’
‘Looks like it,’ I said.”
To read more about VIDA’s origin story, follow this link.
Why VIDA now?
Because, “I know there’s a part of the feminist world that is like, 'Hey, screw ‘em, we’ll do our own thing over here,' and I can see there’s a value in that. But a kind of nudgy part of me thinks: No. I want access, and I want my daughters to have access to the exact same thing, because we all know there’s no such thing as separate but equal.”—VIDA co-founder Erin Belieu, Mother Jones, April 2012, “Where are the Women Writers? ASME Edition”
No single ongoing source of data regarding women's writing in literary publications, book reviews, or publications reviewed by women has existed before VIDA. VIDA is considered the definitive source for data involving women in literary publishing.
The organization offers significant opportunities for intellectual, artistic, and professional partnerships, including but not limited to: outreach programs; events and panels at professional organizations; Op-Eds published in major national news outlets; research projects focused on the literary arts and their practice; mentorship and scholarship programs for women writers; trends and best practices for examining institutional and individual gender bias in editorial, publishing, and academic environments.
How VIDA Makes an Impact
The VIDA Count has been culturally transformative in the way it frames the debate about gender equality in print. VIDA’s work has engaged the general public in a better understanding of the literary landscape and the issues facing artists of both genders. VIDA has encouraged a more nuanced conversation about gender parity in the arts.
This project has inspired a number of leading literary publications to review their own editorial processes. Editors have adopted the methodology disseminated by the VIDA Count to conduct research on their own publication trends, and many have since published their results with direct citation of VIDA’s research.
VIDA Goals and Priorities:
- VIDA seeks to maintain and grow our partnership with professional organizations like our major academic conference, Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)
- to continue to create educational outreach events with notable women writers and male feminist allies
- to initiate economic opportunities for women writers through the foundation of grants and awards
- to mentor women writers through collaborative internship, publishing and research projects
- to redress the current stark disparity in awards for mid-career writers by developing an endowment to award fellowship money and prizes to women writers
- will continue initiating partnership opportunities like the Wild Mountain Memoir Writing VIDAship
- will develop funding sources and award guidelines for the inaugural VIDA Prize in Women’s Literature
- In addition, VIDA will conduct its 2014 VIDA Count, to be released February 2015
What People are Saying about VIDA
“Since it began several years ago, the VIDA count has been a reliable conversation-starter about gender disparity in the literary world.” —New York Times
"I am baffled, outraged, saddened, and a bit depressed that, though some would claim our country's sexism problem ended in the late '60s, the most prominent and respected literary magazine in the country can't find space in its pages for women's voices in the year 2011." —Anne Hayes, Ms Magazine
"The Atlantic, The London Review of Books, The New Republic and The Nation have all had an overall ratio of 75 men to 25 women, including both reviewers and those reviewed. At The New York Review of Books, it's 80-20. VIDA's count director Jen Fitzgerald says the numbers are so clear that they're starting to change the conversation." —NPR
"Probably the best-known set of statistics comes from an organization called VIDA, which has created a feature called 'The Count.' That feature consists of pie charts that track the number of women and men both doing the reviewing and being reviewed." —NPR
“The gender (and racial) inequity exists. It is stark. Counting is useful for reminding us.” —Roxane Gay, author of “Bad Feminist”
"Published annually on VIDA’s website, the Count seeks to make such biases visible. And while the numbers remain stark, simply making the information available has helped VIDA accomplish its first mission: to get people talking." —Melissa Faliveno in Poets & Writers Magazine
“And yet, we have an industry standard—one that continues to insist that people want to read fiction by mainly straight, white, male authors. You have only to go to the VIDA Count, which measures the ratio of male to female authors reviewed in various journals, to see that this is still the case.” —Erika T Wurth in Publisher’s Weekly
“The VIDA Count, which began a few years ago, did something very important for women writers but it also did something very important for lit mags. The Count said to the world that lit mags, and the work published in them, is vital, is relevant, is meant to be taken seriously. I would say the VIDA Count is a huge part of the Lit Mag Moment.” —Becky Tuch, Editor-in-Chief of The Review Review
“For four years, by tracking these numbers, VIDA has put a spotlight on the editorial staff of these publications–insisting that they either demonstrate a commitment to achieving gender parity or reveal their steadfast commitment to preserving patriarchy by default.” —Syreeta McFadden, Feministing
"It’s no coincidence that great books are described as 'seminal' instead of 'ovular.' Publishing has come a long way, but as the sharp-eyed readers at VIDA keep reminding us, we have a long way to go."—Ron Charles, Editor of The Washington Post's Book World
“[VIDA’S] numbers were a kick in the pants, in a very good way. I’ve been editor of Tin House since the beginning, back in 1999, and the numbers spurred us to take a deep look at our submissions, from the slush to solicited manuscripts, who we are asking for work and what they are sending us.”—Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House magazine and editorial advisor of Tin House Books
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VIDA’s logo and all of its graphics are the sole creation of fiction writer and graphic designer Nancy Smith.
Nancy Smith is a graphic designer and writer. Her work has been published inCommunication Arts, The Believer, Adbuster’s, and Seattle Weekly. Nancy received her MA in Media Studies from The New School and is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at the University of San Francisco. She is the editor and publisher of Stumble magazine. (www.nancymadethis.com)