Sunday, May 10, 2009

Female Novelists

From the Guardian:
The postwar literary landscape has been dominated by the male giants of American letters. So where are all the women? Elaine Showalter chooses the best novelists writing in the US today.

But being free to write doesn't mean that American women are equal in a literary marketplace still dominated by male precedents, male literary juries and male standards of greatness. As Joyce Carol Oates has ruefully noted, "the woman who writes is a writer by her own definition, but a woman writer by others' definitions". She cannot transcend readers' assumptions about her gender "unless she writes under a male pseudonym and keeps her identity secret". Yet unlike their 19th-century British and European female precursors, American women novelists have very rarely used male pseudonyms, believing that democratic principles would win them respect.

Women writers generally fare very badly in competition for the Big One. In 2006, the New York Times asked 200 writers and "literary sages" to nominate the best single work of American fiction in the past 25 years. In his introduction to the survey, the Times critic AO Scott defended the exercise; even if the GAN is a mythical creature like the yeti or the sasquatch, he argued, many people still believe it exists. While Toni Morrison's Beloved topped the list, Marilynne Robinson was the only other woman novelist to receive more than two votes.

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