Dear Nonfiction Reader of High Taste and Open Mind:
We need your help!
International Women’s Day is this week, and the VIDA Count is out, and still, well, depressing. On top of this, we at Vela have been a little ruffled by our most recent batch of brush-ups with the byline gender gap – I’ll spare you the particulars save this one: The Electric Typewriter’s latest list “100 Great Nonfiction Books” places Essay Collections at the top of the page (no women), and then, in its Memoir category includes several essay collections by women, including Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Perhaps I’m lacking in some crucial sensibility with which to discern the difference, but I see nothing about Didion’s relationship between the I and the eye in Slouching that is more “memoir” (a word that is pronounced, au courant, in that withering tone applied to the word “novels” during the Victorian Age) than David Foster Wallace’s I/eye in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, or John Jeremiah Sullivan’s in Pulphead.
In ANY case, we decided that we’d try to avoid any soapboxing (oops) and instead try to do something productive.
So here’s the plan: we’re going to compile the Unlisted List. A list of women writers of various forms of creative nonfiction that future list-makers and anthologists, should they notice that their inclusion of women (i.e. 21% in the article mentioned above) is on the paltry side, might peruse and thereby make their “bests” and “greats” better and greater, their collections more representative of the world we live in, rather than reminiscent still of those dead white guys we were raised up on. Because here’s the rub as we see it: women read works by and about men and by and about women, but the male experience and the male perspective is still seen as more universal, more public, than the female. And the only way we can begin to rectify this is by making writing by women as visible as writing by men, and by extension the female perspective as normal and the female experience as mainstream, as universal, as the male.
So. Here’s where YOU come in, you well-read man or woman. We want to know which women writers you like “best,” who you think belongs on those reading lists and what works you wish got more attention. Sure, we all love Joan Didion, but who are her literary daughters and granddaughters writing the essay? What actual memoirs by women – opposed to essay collections – speak personally to the universal experience? Who is your favorite woman writer this year, and who of all time?
Please send us your answers via the form below. You don’t have to fill in all the boxes or list only one per category - this isn’t a ballot or a test. You can even come back tomorrow when you think of someone else and submit again. The only parameters are: Women Writers and Nonfiction. And please give us enough info so we can find the work (our secret agenda is to discover more great stuff to read ourselves). Then please pass this on to anyone whose literary taste you admire…
…and THANK YOU!