The Best American Count

May 15, 2011 | by | 5

Our most recent count examines the contents of the Best American anthologies in poetry, fiction, and essays. When we released our 2010 Count back in February, a common response from our readers was a request for more information about the data behind our pie charts. With that in mind, we have expanded our presentation to include the tables shown below, which are based on the spreadsheets we use to generate our Count pie charts. We think these tables better represent the data, and reveal more of the complex set of questions and issues raised by it.


In the Best American Essays Series from 1986 through 2010, the numbers look dire across the board. Works by women accounted for only 29% of those published in the anthology. There was only one year in twenty-five that the number of works by women published in the anthology outnumbered the works by men.

In the Best American Poetry Series, the percentage of women published in the anthologies was 39%. In twenty-four years of the Best American Poetry anthologies, there were only four years in which the number of published works by women were greater than those by men.

In the Best American Short Stories Series, however, women authors fared much better overall: of the stories published in the anthologies from 1978 through 2010, 47% were written by women. Of the thirty-three years of the Best American Short Stories we counted, there were sixteen years in which the number of works by women published in the anthologies were equal to or greater than the number of works by men.

The Best American Series Count has given us more data and more angles from which to evaluate the state of gender in publishing. It has discounted some of the positions used to explain or support the disparity found in our 2010 Count, while supporting some of the others. And it has raised additional questions that must be asked in our ongoing discussion.

Clearly, counting alone is not enough. However, raising awareness is the first step toward affecting change. We hope that as we continue to disseminate the data, ask the difficult questions raised by our findings and engage in rigorous dialogue with members of our shared literary community, we’ll be embarking on a path toward parity in publishing.

We hope you will continue with us in our efforts and invite you to join VIDA in this conversation.

- Tara Rebele

-Best American Count pie chart images by Ana Božičević

 

The Best American Essays Series

(editor: Robert Atwan)
YearGuest EditorMenWomenNotable Essays MenNotable Essays Women

1986
Elizabeth Hardwick
14
3
58
11
1987
Gay Talese
18
2
81
14
1988
Annie Dillard
14
6
108
28
1989
Geoffrey Wolff
17
4
107
21
1990
Justin Kaplan
15
6
109
28
1991
Joyce Carol Oates
10
11
108
39
1992
Susan Sontag
14
6
115
50
1993
Joseph Epstein
17
5
103
33
1994
Tracy Kidder
15
6
82
40
1995
Jamaica Kincaid
13
7
90
48

1996

Geoffrey C. Ward
17
5
114
44
1997
Ian Frazier
16
8
108
45
1998
Cynthia Ozick
19
6
91
53
1999
Edward Hoagland
17
8
94
53
2000
Alan Lightman
13
8
133
63
2001
Kathleen Norris
18
8
105
62
2002
Stephen Jay Gould
20
5
96
39
2003
Anne Fadiman
14
10
84
55
2004
Louis Menand
15
7
136
68
2005
Susan Orlean
17
8
94
51
2006
Lauren Slater
12
8
114
82
2007
David Foster Wallace
16
6
126
81
2008
Adam Gopnik
16
5
116
74
2009
Mary Oliver
15
7
116
108
2010
Christopher Hitchens
16
5
175
105
Overall

388 (71%)160 (29%)2,663 (67%)1,295 (33%)

 

 

The Best American Poetry Series

(editor: David Lehman)
YearGuest EditorMenWomen

1988
John Ashbery
55
20
1989
Donald Hall
50
25
1990
Jorie Graham
48
27
1991
Mark Strand
46
29
1992
Charles Simic
43
32
1993
Louise Gluck
47
28
1994
A.R. Ammons
44
31
1995
Richard Howard
42
33
1996
Adrienne Rich
35
40
1997
James Tate
52
23

Best of (1988-1997)*

Harold Bloom
51
24
1998
John Hollander
54
21
1999
Robert Bly
46
29
2000
Rita Dove
41
34
2001
Robert Hass
34
41
2002
Robert Creeley
49
26
2003
Yusef Komunyakaa
49
26
2004
Lyn Hejinian
51
24
2005
Paul Muldoon
36
39
2006
Billy Collins
46
29
2007
Heather McHugh
49
24
2008
Charles Wright
51
24
2009
David Wagoner
37
38
2010

Amy Gerstler4332

Overall

1048    (61%)675    (39%)

 

*Not included in overall totals.

The Best American Short Stories Series

(editors: 1978-1990 Shannon Ravenel, 1991-2006 Katrina Kenison,
2007-present Heidi Pitlor )

YearGuest EditorMenWomen100 Distinguished: Men100 Distinguished: Women

1978
Ted Solotaroff
14
8
62
38
1979
Joyce Carol Oates
12
13
66
34
1980
Stanley Elkin
17
5
60
40
1981
Hortense Calisher
10
10
64
36
1982
John Gardner
10
10
65
35
1983
Anne Tyler
9
11
55
45
1984
John Updike
12
8
62
38
1985
Gail Goodwin
10
10
58
42
1986
Raymond Carver
12
8
55
46
1987
Ann Beattie
13
7
52
48

1988

Mark Helprin
12
8
48
52
1989
Margaret Atwood
13
7
64
36
1990
Richard Ford
9
11
55
45
1991
Alice Adams
8
12
49
51
1992
Robert Stone
11
9
52
48
1993
Louise Erdrich
7
13
50
50
1994
Tobias Wolff
13
8
51
49
1995
Jane Smiley
11
9
49
52
1996
John Edgar Wideman
12
12
51
49
1997
E. Annie Proulx
12
8
55
45
1998
Garrison Keillor
8
12
58
42
1999
Amy Tan
11
10
45
55
2000
E. L. Doctorow
12
9
57
43
2001
Barbara Kingsolver
9
11
52
48
2002
Sue Miller
9
11
43
57
2003
Walter Mosley
9
11
61
39
2004
Lorrie Moore
9
11
50
49
2005
Michael Chabon
13
7
49
51
2006
Ann Patchett
13
8
50
50
2007
Stephen King
10
10
54
46
2008
Salman Rushdie
10
10
56
43
2009
Alice Sebold
11
9
50
50
2010
Richard Russo
11
9
49
57
Overall

362   (53%) 315   (47%)1,797   (54%)1,509   (46%)

 
For more on the Best American Count check out Amy King’s interview with VIDA members Erin Belieu, Danielle Pafunda, Cheryl Strayed, and Adrienne Su: Biting the Hand: VIDA Women Discuss Their Selection For The Best American Series.

5 Comments to 'The Best American Count'

  • Jen Fitzgerald says:

    I am a young, female writer hoping to break into the genre of nonfiction. Numbers like these make me feel foolish, and then I wonder how many other young women picked up these compilations, literary magazine and periodicals and felt the same way. How many of them stopped writing because of it? To stifle an entire gender is reprehensible , but at least they are not doing it with our permission, or compliance, anymore.

  • Terrible news for nonfiction, but thank you so much for investigating. Important numbers. I also appreciated your author discussion about what these numbers mean, and VIDA’s goals.
    All the best from Canada,
    Christin

  • Debra Levy says:

    Thank you for demonstrating what many women have intuited for so many years.

  • Carol Frome says:

    I agree with Debra Levy. Keep up the good work.

  • Michael says:

    Heidi Pitlor has been the series editor of BASS since 2006: it’s worth noting that since then, it’s about 50/50. I think this speaks volumes about the tremendous work she has done during her five years in this capacity.

  1. DON'T LIKE THE NUMBERS?

    Join VIDA!
  2. DON'T LIKE THE NUMBERS?

    Support VIDA!