Who Does the Math? Introducing VIDA Counter Sophia Chew

The people who count for VIDA count because they love literature. It would probably be an understatement to suggest they prefer reading over math. We wanted to learn more about what drives the individuals who make the annual VIDA Count possible. And because we are so grateful to these interns for so generously volunteering their time, we’ve launched a fundraising campaign to pay our Counters.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in Singapore, and moved to London a few years ago for university, where I’m still based; I’m currently in the middle of my Master’s degree in Classics. When I’m not squinting at Ancient Greek verbs or chasing information down the research rabbit-hole, however, I dance Argentine Tango and Blues, shuttle between various internships and side projects, and, well, read even more! I do dabble in poetry, although I read much more of it than I write, and occasionally blog about it at aquarrelofsparrows.wordpress.com.


Why did you decide to become involved with the VIDA Count? 

Some of my friends run a feminist periodical called HYSTERIA, and last summer they shared VIDA’s call for counters on their Facebook page. I actually hadn’t heard of VIDA before that, but after doing some research it sounded like a really worthwhile project to volunteer for – hard data might be tedious to gather, but it’s necessary to prove we’re nowhere near post-feminism yet, and to get conversations going on how things can be made better.

It was a bonus that the 2014 Count turned out to focus specially on women of colour (I’m ethnically Chinese) – issues surrounding diversity, representation, and more broadly, cultural identity, began weighing on my mind very heavily after I moved to London, and had to conceive of myself as an ethnic minority/woman of colour for the first time; even more so after I began reading Classics. There’s been a lot more talk about gender and race in literary culture of late, thanks to the #ReadWomen and #WeNeedDiverseBooks movements, and writers like Roxane Gay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Celeste Ng (although the buzz doesn’t seem to have spread across the Atlantic to quite the same extent, which is a shame). It was great to have VIDA join in, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the data reveals – not to mention that counting made me much more attentive to who and what I was reading. (Plus, I got to work with some very wonderful women, who were kind enough to accommodate the time difference throughout our months of meetings – hugest thanks to Team A!)


Do you have a favorite book / poem / novel / short story?

This question always causes me a great deal of stress (probably more than is necessary) – it’s impossible to choose! My favourite novel is a toss-up between A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, and John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot join this list when I’m feeling indulgent). Favourite poem goes to Alice Oswald’s Ballad of a Shadow, although all of her work is magnificent; I keep a long list of beloved individual poems, but speaking about poets more generally, I’m also a huge fan of Emily Berry, Anne Carson, Kate Clanchy, Margaret Atwood, W.S. Merwin, Dana Gioia, and Ada Limon. Jeanette Winterson’s essay collection Art Objects had, and continues to have, a huge impact on me, as does Anais Nin’s In Favour of the Sensitive Man and her diaries. And I always come back to Homer, Sappho, and Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium.


What literary journals would you suggest readers be on the lookout for?

I tend to frequent poetry blogs a lot more than journals, but one journal I’ve been following for a while is Asymptote (asymptotejournal.com), which is dedicated to literary translation. The range of languages represented is stunning, and the work is always sensitive and thought-provoking. I also really like Guernica (guernicamag.com) and Black Heart Magazine (blackheartmagazine.com).


Sophie ChewSophie grew up in Singapore and now lives (and writes and dances) in London, where she will be starting graduate school in Classics in the fall. She received the 2010 Angus Ross Prize and her one published poem to date appeared in the Eunoia Review, although she is still trying to write her way into her voice. She is frequently called a ‘total romantic idealist’, and can never decide if this is more of a good thing than not.