News: An Unfair Review

2012-07-28 22:24:PM ago by nicole.boyce

A recent Canadian study proposed some interesting questions about gender biases in book reviews. Looking at the literary reviews in nine well-known Canadian publications in 2011, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts found that in some publications, fewer than 30% of book reviews featured female-authored books. Additionally, two thirds of the 2011 reviews were written by male critics.  
 
What does this mean for Canadian literature? Underrepresentation, on a systemic level, is a key obstacle to an inclusive literary climate.  For those who might blame publishing statistics, women and men published almost equally in 2011...so why the gap in publicity?
 
CWILA’s findings are not unique to Canada. A similar study in the United States found that women made up less than 40% of the The New York Times’ book reviews in 2011. Additionally, an informal study conducted by Roxane Gay looked at racial bias in book reviews, finding that almost 90% of The New York Times’ 2011 reviews featured books written by Caucasian authors. Representation-wise, something is askew in the world of criticism.
 
So how can we create a more inclusive critical landscape? Certainly, publications should consider materials from writers of all backgrounds, but what should come first when selecting a piece to review – the reviewer’s personal interest, the anticipation surrounding the book, the innovativeness of the material, the demographic represented by the writer?
 
These are all important considerations, and to a certain extent, the balance depends on the publication. But in any case, the pool of work is by no means shallow. By remaining mindful of their selections – and the impact they have on emerging authors – magazines have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure all writers have a fair chance.

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