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, tallying 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
388 (71%)160 (29%)2,663 (67%)1,295 (33%)
The Best American Poetry Series
(editor: David Lehman)
Best of (1988-1997)*
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
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.