The 2018 VIDA Count
The 2018 VIDA Count
Introduction written by Suzi F. Garcia and Ruth Ellen Kocher
It seems unreal that we are gearing up for another presidential election, a day many of us were afraid would never come. And there is still a lot of work to do to ensure we get there, but it’s difficult when we are working every day for survival. We are at the Supreme Court, fighting for trans rights, at the borders, trying to uncage children, trying to support refugees across the ocean, and each of these affects every one of us. We are also concerned for our jobs and for our personal safety in classrooms, where many in the creative writing community work. In our libraries and college campuses, the call for “free speech” has led to abuse and violence, instead of imaginative expression and compassion.
Not even our homes are safe. The movement towards accountability for police violence has barely registered on the barometer. Instead, we are being fed false narratives that showcase scapegoats or charades of justice, such as is the case with Aaron Dean and Amber Guyger. By utilizing these officers as “examples,” (with minimal repercussions) while continuing to defend the institution they stand for, the media and the government are denying clearly systematic issues. And without understanding and confrontation of these issues, we will not see change.
The police claim they are necessary as protection. But when a wellness check ends in the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, who is being protected? When Botham Jean cannot sit in his own home without being killed, who is being protected? And that is the question we need to continually ask ourselves—who is being protected? As poets and teachers and publisher and administrators, this is a question we need to address in our own work as well. Who are we protecting? We should always be working in service—of the language, of the poem, of the journal/press, and of our community. Furthermore, as citizens, of poetry and community, we need to put in the work. We see more poets running for office, holding office, working on election campaigns, and it’s inspiring to remember that we can affect change in many ways.
For those in other spaces, that means standing by our students and authors and readers in order to create spaces and work that helps us to not just survive but thrive. We also need to stand up, in the classroom, at readings, anywhere we can begin to protect anyone who is vulnerable to systematic harm.
VIDA has been putting in this work for a decade now, in part through the VIDA Count. The Count has evolved each year. This evolution has been the work of many factors, but undeniably, that evolution comes from listening to and widening the conversation. Each year when the Count comes out, criticism follows it. And yet every year, VIDA is listening. They want to know what conversations we need to have, and they want to create space for those conversations. The VIDA Count has evolved, bringing on new partners, growing through self-reflection as well as attending to the concerns of the literary community.
However, while the VIDA Count is essential, VIDA’s work does not stop here. Throughout the year, they provide space and support for marginalized writers. By providing these discussions, VIDA is refusing to de-contextualize these numbers. What does consistency look like? How are editors involved in these decisions? Who are the people working in other arenas? Numbers are not facts alone; they both reflect and are reflective. VIDA has utilized reviews, podcasts, and of course, Reports from the Field to counter the anti-queer, anti-woman, anti-black, anti-POC, ableist system that we are increasingly fighting on all sides.
This includes fighting to preserve our past. The VIDA Count has always held publishers accountable and provided important talking points for the writing community, as well as provide validation for those who are discriminated against in publishing. And VIDA has not taken on this fight alone. VIDA has delivered tools to put in the work ourselves: in our conference rooms, our classrooms, and our dining rooms. The VIDA Count has also provided a resource for writers looking for spaces they know will welcome and celebrate their work They have done so much, but we are still asking for more. We are now looking to the VIDA Count to also provide an archive of our past and present.
In the White House, the president wants us to lose sight of history, to detach from reality. We are told that no one has faced a “lynching” like him, that we are not seeing the truth in front of our own eyes. This denial and gaslighting is why it is essential to create these archives and discussions. We refuse to lose sight of ourselves and what is happening in the literary landscape, in our country, and in our world.
Of course, the VIDA Count is not perfect. Since the VIDA Count relies on the information authors make publicly available, there is an undeniable amount of risk of error. That risk is worth it to shine a light on the publishing industry as a system that needs to be overhauled. Systematic issues pervade our institutions, and it is through projects like the VIDA Count that we can fight these harmful biases and prejudices.
Importantly, VIDA is staffed completely by volunteers. We admire their focus on developing leaders and the fact that VIDA has provided a sustainable role model for other administrations, including stepping up to the plate to self-reflect. This is an organization that takes thousands of hours of labor. We encourage those interested in continuing to complicate the conversation to reach out, but also, when possible, to volunteer. Every year, the public provides great ideas for both how to expand and examine the numbers, so that the only foreseeable end to this important project is if we lose these essential staff members. These volunteers have our admiration and our gratitude, and we applaud their work and sacrifices to make the VIDA Count happen.
Suzi F. Garcia is the author of the chapbook, Dear Dorothy: A Home Grown Fairytale, Skull + Wind Press, 2020. The daughter of a Peruvian immigrant, raised in Arkansas, she has an MFA in Creative Writing with minors in Screen Cultures and Gender Studies. Suzi is an Executive Editor at Noemi Press. Suzi is a CantoMundo Fellow, a Macondista, and participated in the first ever Poetry Incubator at the Poetry Foundation. She currently serves as the CantoMundo Regional Chair for the Midwest and a board member for the AWP Latinx Caucus. Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming from the Offing, Vinyl, Fence Magazine, and more.
Ruth Ellen Kocher is the author of Third Voice (Tupelo Press, 2016), Ending in Planes (Noemi Press, 2014), Goodbye Lyric: The Gigans and Lovely Gun (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014), domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press, 2013), Dorset Prize winner and the 2014 PEN/Open Book Award, One Girl Babylon (New Issues Press, 2003) Green Rose Prize winner, When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering (New Issues Press, 2002), and Desdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press 1999) Naomi Long Madgett Prize winner. Her poems appear in Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poets, Black Nature, From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, An Anthology for Creative Writers: The Garden of Forking Paths, IOU: New Writing On Money, New Bones: Contemporary Black Writing in America. She has been awarded fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and Yaddo. She is a Contributing Editor at Poets & Writers Magazine and and Professor of English at the University of Colorado where she teaches Poetry, Poetics, and Literature.
2018 was no ordinary year for VIDA. Last fall, as count volunteers began painstakingly collecting this data, several long-time members of the board stepped down and one was asked to leave amid revelations of a toxic, racist culture that had previously been allowed to thrive in some corners of the organization. These events left the few of us who remained unsure if we could keep up this work. It became clear it was time for VIDA to reconcile with our past failings, and that it was going to take a lot of work to rebuild our foundations as an equitable, ethically-run intersectional feminist organization. To focus on this work, and with a drastic cut to our resources, we had to put some of our projects on pause.
For years, the VIDA Count release date has been pushed back as we expanded the scope of the project. This year, we’re unfortunately later than ever, and have temporarily scaled some things back.
This year, we found ourselves without the resources necessary to conduct the intersectional survey, which requires frequent updating and hundreds of hours of work by volunteers. Our intersectional survey expert stepped down, while our survey coordinator was forced to step into other demanding roles on the board and executive committee. Work previously done by fifteen people had to be divided between only three, and, frankly, we couldn’t do it all.
Rather than further delaying, or publishing incomplete or inaccurate data that would fall short of serving its purpose, we are presenting the 2018 VIDA Count gender data without this crucial intersectional piece. VIDA remains deeply committed to intersectionality and will relaunch the Intersectional Survey in 2020, alongside the 2019 VIDA Count.
We are in the process of redesigning our Intersectional Survey to more effectively represent intersections of oppression and better show the lack of diversity in the literary landscape. We are actively working to build up the resources necessary to do this project justice. This means listening to communities and bringing on new voices at VIDA who have the experience, both lived and professional, that it takes to do this work the right way.
The Main Count
Of the 15 publications in our main VIDA Count, 3 published 50% or more women writers: Tin House (64.6%), Granta (57.6%), and Boston Review (53.6%).1
While Granta, Poetry, and Tin House have consistently been members of the 50%+ club, this is the Boston Review’s first time breaking the threshold. It will be interesting to see if this is an actual change or a reaction to the negative press surrounding their response to serious allegations against editor Junot Díaz.
A special shout out to Poetry: while their women writers made up 47.3%, their nonbinary writers made up 9.6%, including more nonbinary writers in print than the other 14 publications combined (times two!). This earns them double snaps for making a concerted effort to move beyond gender parity and, instead, curate a more gender diverse publication.
Meanwhile, at 4 years in a row, the Feckless Five are back, with fewer than 40% of women writers in their publication totals: Times Literary Supplement (38.5%), The Nation (36.9%), The Threepenny Review (36.6%), London Review of Books (33.7%), and The Atlantic (33.6%).
The New York Review of Books, once again, had the worst numbers of all 40 publications at a measly 27.1%, which is, sadly, the highest percentage of women they’ve published since the beginning of the VIDA Count (2010: 10.4%, 2011: 20.3%, 2012: 20.2%, 2013: 20.5%, 2014: 26.3%, 2015: 20.2%, 2016: 24.7%, 2017: 23.3%). Looking at their yearly comparison, it seems clear that The New York Review of Books, under the stewardship of the late Robert Silvers and his successor Ian Buruma (who resigned due to backlash against his choice to publish an essay by a disgraced Canadian radio broadcaster who had been accused of sexual assault by more than 20 women), cared little about publishing women writers. Let’s hope that the new co-editors take their publication’s gender imbalance more seriously. A publication that so summarily dismisses women writers is not a publication that should be lauded.
The remaining five publications had women representing between 40% and 49.9% of their total publications: The Paris Review (48.8%), The New York Times Book Review (48.0%), Harper’s Magazine (46.6%), The New Republic (44.5%), and The New Yorker (42.3%). Congratulations to The New Yorker; after a seven-year streak of incremental gains, you’ve finally made it out of the bottom of the barrel. Here’s hoping it isn’t a fluke!
The VIDA Count Team did undertake one small new venture in 2018: for the first time, we’ve included literary translators, as well as original authors, in the VIDA Count. And though it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions from a single year of data, this first foray into counting translators suggests that in this field, too, men are overrepresented as compared to women and nonbinary translators. In particular, we found far more male-identified Translators Reviewed—that is, translators of books that were reviewed in the pages of these periodicals—especially in certain repeat-offenders like the London Review of Books, New York Review of Books, and Times Literary Supplement.
A Note to Tin House:
Everyone at VIDA would like to say thank you to Tin House, who, since their first poor year in the 2010 VIDA Count, had consistently worked year after year to be more inclusive in regards to gender. Goodbye Tin House, we’ll miss you!
The Larger Literary Landscape
We’re excited to say that for the first time since the beginning of the VIDA Count, not a single one of the 25 literary magazines counted in the LLL had fewer than 40% of women writers in their total publications.2 Let’s hope this is a sustained threshold for these publications; we’d hate to see a backslide.
An astounding 16 publications published at least 50% women writers. Leading the pack after a two year hiatus was McSweeney’s at 70.6%.
We want to give special praise to Ninth Letter for having the most visually diverse gender chart the VIDA Count has ever witnessed! With their inclusion of 12.7% nonbinary writers, we hope to see more publications take Ninth Letter’s (and Poetry’s) lead on increasing gender diversity overall*.
On that note, the majority of publications (15) in the LLL did not appear to include a single nonbinary writer amongst their pages:3 A Public Space, AGNI, Callaloo, The Cincinnati Review, Conjunctions, Fence, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, McSweeney’s, The Missouri Review, n+1, New American Writing, Pleiades, The Southern Review, and Southwest Review.4
Be sure to check out our charts to see the breakdown of each publication in both the Main Count and the Larger Literary Landscape.
As we look back at the 2018 numbers, the VIDA Count team is working tirelessly on the 2019 VIDA Count. The 2019 VIDA Count will be the last year with this exact lineup of publications; due to our partnership with PEN International, VIDA has decided to focus on publications based out of the United States. We will be evaluating all of the publications we count. Interested in being included? Editors can make a request here.
A few more things to keep in mind:
For the purposes of the VIDA Count, we do not differentiate between cis men and binary trans men, so as not to invalidate binary trans men’s identities, and with the understanding that many men experience oppression across various axes that impact their experiences of and access to male privilege.
The VIDA Count team strives to not misgender anyone; however, it may be possible that a nonbinary person has been incorrectly identified as male or female. Our data is sourced from information available to the public, and therefore, presumably, to the editors selecting their work, which might not always account for someone’s personal identity.
Also, online content supplementing print publications has become increasingly ubiquitous since we began the VIDA Count in 2009. We do not incorporate online content in our data. It is too easy to confine women, gender minorities, and other marginalized writers to cost-effective web platforms, which frequently pay differently (or don’t pay at all), compared to their print counterparts. For these reasons, as well as for consistency in the VIDA Count from year to year, we will only be focusing on the women and nonbinary writers afforded space in print.
More details about our methodologies and terms can be found in the Count FAQ.
1 All data has been rounded to the nearest tenth. Percentage point changes listed on the overview charts may appear slightly off from the percentages shown on historical charts due to rounding of the raw data.
2 Prairie Schooner issues included in this count are 91.4 (Winter 2017), 92.1 (Spring 2018), 92.2 (Summer 2018), and 92.3 (Fall 2018). 92.4 (Winter 2018) will be included in the 2019 Count.
3 The VIDA Count team was unable to determine some writers’ genders. Those are reflected in the charts as “Unidentified.” The Gettysburg Review (2.1% Unidentified) and the Harvard Review (2.9% Unidentified) may have included nonbinary writers in this category and, so, are not reflected in the list of publications without a nonbinary writer. It is also possible that a nonbinary person has been incorrectly identified as male or female.
4 Callaloo issues included in the 2018 VIDA Count were actually published in 2017. There were no issues published in 2018.
* Correction: We mistakenly had Ninth Letter‘s numbers incorrect in our highlights and observations. We previously stated that “(although it seems important to note that Ninth Letter published 33.8% women vs. 52.1% men)” which is incorrect. Ninth Letter published 52.1% women and 33.8% men).
VIDA Count Team
We would like to thank the members of VIDA who worked tirelessly to put together the 2018 VIDA Count.
VIDA Count Data Collection
Sara Iacovelli, VIDA Count Director
Jen Rabedeau, VIDA Count Assistant Director
Kelly Lynn Thomas, VIDA Count Coordinator
Tess Wilson, VIDA Count Co-Coordinator
Emmalie Dropkin, VIDA Count Coordinator
Katharine Perko, VIDA Count Co-Coordinator
Christina Djossa, VIDA Count Coordinator
Jess Engebretson, VIDA Count Co-Coordinator
VIDA Count Data Visualization
VIDA Intersectional Survey Team