“Genre is a dirty word in Canadian fiction,” writes the crime novelist Sam Wiebe[1]. This sentiment, however, is not exclusive to Canada. There seems to exist an “unspoken hierarchy”[2] about fiction writing in most places across the world, with literary fiction representing everything that is artistically intellectual and ‘highbrow’, and genre becoming synonymous with ‘pulpy’ entertainment. In his New Yorker article titled “Easy Writers,” Arthur Krystal perfectly encapsulates this binary with the following analogy: “For the longest time, there was little ambiguity between literary fiction and genre fiction: one was good for you, one simply tasted good. You could either go to an amusement park or trundle off to a museum, ride a roller coaster or stroll among the Flemish Masters.”[3] And since “we’re still judged by the books we read,”[4] genre fiction, for many, simply becomes a ‘guilty pleasure’.


Nevertheless, over the last decade, this hierarchical segmentation of literary vs. genre fiction as ‘high’ culture and ‘low’ culture has become the subject of much volatile and dynamic cultural debate. A good example of the dynamic nature of this debate in the recent years can be seen through the Time magazine’s book critic Lev Grossman’s “agile”[5] riposte to the above-mentioned piece by Krystal[6]. Grossman, in his article, defends genre fiction by primarily arguing that the deep-seated condescension that creeps into any discussion about genre’s focus on plot (as opposed to prose) is not entirely reasonable, stating that this bias is the result of a lack of proper “critical vocabulary” to understand “the long view that plot requires.”[7] Grossman’s other argument (which, to an extent, renders the whole debate pointless) is that “— and here’s the real nightmare, horror-movie reveal, wait for it — literary fiction is itself a genre, just like mysteries or westerns or fantasy.”[8] Essentially, what Grossman is (quite cheekily) suggesting is that considering literary fiction just another ‘genre’ of fiction writing (with its own “conventions” and “formulas”), might be a blasphemous notion for many, as it threatens to dismantle the carefully structured hierarchies[9]. Writing in the same vein, New Yorker editor Joshua Rothman, dares to ask an even more disruptive question: “What is it, exactly, about genre that is unliterary—and what is it in “the literary” that resists genre?”[10]


The debate, however, as Rothman himself contends, “goes round and round, magnetic and circular—[like] a lovers’ quarrel among literati.”[11] But while this discussion continues on the global scale, Canada’s unease with this ‘pulpy’ ‘commercial’ vein of writing stands out amidst the rest. The treatment of genre fiction in the Canadian literary space is quite peculiar owing to its “trans-national cultural” history[12]. In order to understand this complicated relationship, one must first take a deeper look at Canada’s nation building era during the 1940’s, where it “sought to define itself as a nation both independent of its British colonial past, and unique from the American culture that was so easily imported from south of the border[13].


In “Soup Cans and Love Slaves”, Michelle Smith skillfully analyzes the agendas of “national politics” and “cultural authority” that fundamentally shaped the Canadian literary scene for the years to come[14]. Smith notes that the flooding Canadian markets with American mass market pulp magazine, and the subsequent imitation of this model by Canadian publishers was what spurred the government into taking drastic actions to protect its “mental borders”[15][16]. The “cultural institutions in Canada,” as Belle Cheung posits, “began as “tools of nation building and social cohesion,””[17] and this onslaught of pulp fiction (which for Canadian ruling class of the period represented both, “a form of lower-class literature” and “a form of American mass culture”) threatened to convolute the carefully cultivated cultural hierarchy that the country was trying to establish over its neighbour.[18]


“… the ban on pulps was a political decision aimed at creating not only morally sound readers, but cultivated citizens.”[19]


Consequently, various bodies were established to help the government sustain (and in turn regulate) the cultural production within Canada. These agencies soon began funding “both individual artists engaged in making “high” art and academic institutions that increasingly structured their liberal arts programs to support the study of these works.”[20]


“Books made in Canada [then],” (as long as their not self-help books, cookbooks, or in this case genre fiction), observes Elaine Dewar in her Walrus article, “are widely considered to be Good Things that any Right Thinking Person should purchase during the Holiday Season, the more the better […] On the Canada Council website, you can find lists of Canadian-owned publishing companies that have been awarded many different kinds of grants to defend Canada’s mental borders.”[21]


However, one has to only take a look at the Canada Council’s eligibility criteria to realize what was left out of these “mental borders”[22]: “The Canada Council supports the excellence and vitality of Canadian literature as expressed in a variety of practices and registers in the […] literary genres[23][emphasis added]. This excerpt makes it clear that the Canada Council’s generosity towards the “publishing ecosystems”[24] is not extended to any writers “who deal with lawmen, criminals, private detectives, spies, aliens, ghosts, fallen heroines, and killer cars.”[25]


Sam Wiebe, in his Quill & Quire article, articulates this feeling of being ‘left out’: “Being a genre writer in Canada often feels like being the shortest tall poppy. […] Yet the support offered to budding literary authors – grants, awards, festival invitations – is rarely extended equally to genre authors. Whether this is due to assumptions about literary worthiness, or a misunderstanding of the economies of genre publishing, it has an effect on how genre writers are represented in the Canadian literary landscape.”[26]


With government funding being such an important part of the infrastructure of cultural production in Canada, this institutional bias against genre fiction ends up doubly affecting a certain group of writers: the ones who are not white, male, or middle-class. A big problem for writers from marginalized communities, argues Arifa Akbar, in her Guardian article about the lack of diversity in the British publishing industry, is that “these writers, for all their achievements, are often expected to write about identity whatever their chosen genre.”[27] Akbar draws our attention to case of Abir Mukherjee, a dynamic British Asian crime novelist, who, despite being a critical success, was told that his work is not “authentically Asian enough.”[28] This drove him to ask a very pertinent question, which brings the legacy of White colonial biases embedded within the industry to the forefront: “Would you ask a writer from Northern Ireland only to write about the Troubles?”[29]


Similar sentiments are echoed over at this side of the pond by S. G. Wong, a Canadian noir writer, who argues that Publishing to her is an industry that concentrates on “replicating past bestsellers”, instead of mapping an unchartered territory[30]. While this practice could be justified from an economic standpoint, it, nevertheless, ends up restricting the playing field for certain groups:


“For writers from marginalized groups, this often means being told readers want only certain kinds of narratives from us: the immigrant experience; coming-of-age-as-queer; overcoming-disability-to-triumph; the pain-of-being-Black/Indigenous/Other; etc. They’re all variations on a theme: how the marginalized can become accepted into the historically-centred culture. Obviously, this narrow framing excludes the full, complex experience of marginalized communities—but it’s how publishing gatekeepers control what gets considered mainstream.”[31]


Another example of this genre bias affecting writers from a marginalized background can be seen in Drew Hayden Taylor’s journey towards establishing a platform for Native science fiction in Canada. Native science fiction, he says, was by definition an oxymoron for many:


“You see, Native people simply did not write science fiction. Just like we did not write erotica, murder mysteries, vampire novels or fantasy books. No more than a fish could ride a bicycle or trees could tap dance.”[32]


When he decided to create a Native sci-fi anthology, which would feature “cream of the Aboriginal crop of Canadian writers”, he was faced with the same problem that many hailing from a similar socioeconomic background struggle with: the task was a “little too expensive”, and “several publishers failed to bite at the prospect.”[33]


The question then is that with little to no support from funding bodies (in an industry which heavily relies on it for its survival), and the “gatekeepers” accepting only certain narratives as “authentic”, what happens to those who the Western society has pushed to the periphery, the ones who wish to articulate their art within a generic mode? A possible answer is suggested by Akbar herself: such writers, she notes, often “step sideways”[34]. Instead of trying to break the glass ceiling, they move on to find and create alternative streams to bring their work to the world. A brilliant example of this in practice is Canadian publisher Hope Nicholson’s publishing model for Bedside Press, where she uses crowdfunding to finance her projects. The recent success of Moonshot (an anthology of stories in the form of comics told by indigenous creators) which was named as one of the Top Canadian Entrepreneurial Crowdfunding Campaigns by the Globe & Mail, and raised over $74,000, is evidence enough to see that her model is working[35].


While the future of this somewhat utopic conception of an “alternative mainstream”[36] remains uncertain, it nevertheless is at least an avenue for the ones who have been left out of the discussion for so long to have their voices heard.



[1] Sam Wiebe, “Diversity in Crime Writing: Sam Wiebe Urges His Genre to Reckon with Inclusion.” Quill and Quire.

[2] S. G. Wong, “Claiming Space: CanLit Redux.”

[3] Arthur Krystal, “Easy Writers.” The New Yorker.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Arthur Krystal, “It’s Genre. Not That There’s Anything Wrong with It!” The New Yorker.

[6] Lev Grossman, “Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology.” Time.

[7]  Ibid.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  Ibid.

[10] Rothman, Joshua. “A Better Way to Think About the Genre Debate,” The New Yorker.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Michelle Denise Smith, “Soup Cans and Love Slaves: National Politics and Cultural Authority in the Editing and Authorship of Canadian Pulp Magazines.” Book History, 262.

[13] Ibid., 285.

[14] Ibid., 262.

[15] Elaine Dewar, “How Canada Sold out Its Publishing Industry.” The Walrus.

[16] Smith, “Soup Cans and Love Slaves,” 263.

[17] J. Cohnstaedt as qtd. in Belle Chi-Tung Cheung, “‘Just Add Colour’: Unintended Whiteness in Vancouver Theatre and Arts and Culture Policies in Canada.” University of British Columbia, 25.

[18] Smith, “Soup Cans and Love Slaves,” 262.

[19] Ibid., 271.

[20] Ibid., 271.

[21] Dewar, “How Canada Sold out Its Publishing Industry.”

[22] Ibid.

[23] “Applicant Profiles.” Canada Council for the Arts, 82.

[24] Dewar, “How Canada Sold out Its Publishing Industry.”

[25] Krystal, “Easy Writers.”

[26] Wiebe, “Diversity in Crime Writing: Sam Wiebe Urges His Genre to Reckon with Inclusion.”

[27] Arifa Akbar, “Diversity in Publishing – Still Hideously Middle-Class and White?” The Guardian.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Abir Mukherjee as qtd. in Akbar, “Diversity in Publishing.”

[30] Wong, “Claiming Space: CanLit Redux.”

[31] Ibid.

[32] Drew Hayden Taylor, “Drew Hayden Taylor: Why I Write Indigenous Sci-Fi.” Canadian Art.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Akbar, “Diversity in Publishing – Still Hideously Middle-Class and White?”

[35] “Moonshot: Andy Stanleigh and Hope Nicholson.”

[36] Akbar, “Diversity in Publishing – Still Hideously Middle-Class and White?”





Akbar, Arifa. “Diversity in Publishing – Still Hideously Middle-Class and White?” The Guardian, December 9, 2017, sec. Books. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/09/diversity-publishing-new-faces.


“Applicant Profiles.” Canada Council for the Arts, 2019. https://canadacouncil.ca/glossary/applicant-profile.


Cheung, Belle Chi-Tung. “‘Just Add Colour’: Unintended Whiteness in Vancouver Theatre and Arts and Culture Policies in Canada.” University of British Columbia, 2018. https://doi.org/10.14288/1.0371028.


Dewar, Elaine. “How Canada Sold out Its Publishing Industry.” The Walrus, June 8, 2017. https://thewalrus.ca/no-one-blinked/.


Grossman, Lev. “Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology.” Time, May 23, 2012. http://entertainment.time.com/2012/05/23/genre-fiction-is-disruptive-technology/.


Krystal, Arthur. “Easy Writers.” The New Yorker, May 21, 2012. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/05/28/easy-writers.

———. “It’s Genre. Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It!,” The New Yorker, October 24, 2012. https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/its-genre-not-that-theres-anything-wrong-with-it.


“Moonshot: Andy Stanleigh and Hope Nicholson.” Accessed October 8, 2019. https://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/teens/andy-stanleigh-and-hope-nicholson.html.


Rothman, Joshua. “A Better Way to Think About the Genre Debate,” The New Yorker, November 6, 2014. https://www.newyorker.com/books/joshua-rothman/better-way-think-genre-debate.


Smith, Michelle Denise. “Soup Cans and Love Slaves: National Politics and Cultural Authority in the Editing and Authorship of Canadian Pulp Magazines.” Book History 9 (2006): 261–89. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30227392.


Taylor, Drew Hayden. “Drew Hayden Taylor: Why I Write Indigenous Sci-Fi.” Canadian Art, December 16, 2016. https://canadianart.ca/essays/why-i-write-indigenous-sci-fi/.


Wiebe, Sam. “Diversity in Crime Writing: Sam Wiebe Urges His Genre to Reckon with Inclusion.” Quill and Quire (blog), December 19, 2018. https://quillandquire.com/omni/diversity-in-crime-writing-sam-wiebe-urges-his-genre-to-reckon-with-inclusion/.


Wong, S.G. “Claiming Space: CanLit Redux,” 2019. https://sgwong.com/blog/claiming-space-canlit-redux/.


It is almost as though winning a prize is the only truly newsworthy thing a cultural worker can do… in this context it is the prize, above all else, that defines the artist” (English, 2008).


Publishers submit books for consideration to literary award bodies and are thereby responsible for determining which authors are valued in the cultural economy (Bourdieu in Lash, 1993). The issue of diversity in publishing or the lack of it rather has been sung from the mountain tops and it rears its head once more when discussing awards particularly those considered to be the most prestigious. In this paper, I will argue that the Scotiabank Giller Prize also known as the holy grail of awards in Canadian publishing has found its match in the newly created Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA). Regardless of the commercial success the Giller Prize brings to authors and publishers alike, the Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA) have been created at a politically charged time making them impossible to ignore. It is my belief that the IVA will eventually occupy an equal amount of space in the cultural economy.

Because of its ability to command the attention of the nation and the media whilst turning the publishing industry on its head annually, the Scotiabank Giller Prize is what Michael Warner (2002) would label a “dominant public”. The Governor General’s Award and the Roger Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize are both revered but from what I have seen do not command the level of attention and glitz the Giller does. Therefore, using Warner’s theory, I am going to position the Indigenous Voices Awards as the most direct counterpublic to the “dominant” Giller.

  • Firstly, counterpublics are “continually at odds with the ‘dominant’ public” (Alice F, 2016). “Their members are understood to be not merely a subset of the public, but constituted through a conflictual relation to the dominant public” (Warner, 2002). Bearing in mind that it is in its flagship year and winners are yet to be announced, the Indigenous Voices Awards are at ideological war with the very Canadian Giller.  The Giller Prize is focused on the nation-state and finding the “best work” (Scott, 2007) within those borders. As Gillian Roberts (2011) mentions, however, Canadian national literature depends upon nation-state borders overridden by colonial logic. The Indigenous Voices Awards make it explicit that they are searching for emerging talent in “lands claimed by Canada” (ILSA, 2017) disregarding the “national-border”.

Gregory Younging who kindly spoke to the M-Pub cohort a few weeks ago stated in an interview with Quill and Quire that we should not forget that the current times are still colonial albeit not as “intense” as before (Carter, 2017) which explains why in the 23 years that the Giller Prize has existed an Indigenous writer has never won the prize. (Because of the serious questions surrounding his identity, Joseph Boyden who won in 2008 is not representative). Writers like Eden Robinson have been shortlisted but have never made the plunge into victory which brings me back to the quotation used at the start of this paper. Whether we like it or not, literary prizes determine the value and importance of a writer. The fact that an Indigenous writer has never won the most prestigious prize raises questions about whether Indigenous writing is recognised as being of equal merit in Canada. The creation of the Indigenous Voices Awards is, therefore, an act of autonomy where Indigenous cultural workers are saying “you do not need to recognise us, we do not need your validation, we can validate ourselves”.

Earlier this year I argued that the counter prizes which were dedicated to recognising people of colour were in danger of marginalizing/ further segregating the people of colour they wanted to represent. But in the case of Indigenous writers in lands claimed by Canada and based on what I heard from Gregory Younging, this is not the case here. It is not to be directly assumed that Indigenous writers are a part of Canada; they are from their own nations and this prize gives them an opportunity to not be thrown under one umbrella but to be recognised in their own right.

As mentioned previously one of the reasons that the Giller Prize is “the most prestigious literary award” in Canada is because of its monetary value. Since it was founded, it has been “the largest purse for literature” (“Who We Are”, 2017) in the country. The prize wields economic weight and subsequently has become a household name that ensures commercial success for winners, nominees and their publishers alike. The prize is worth $100 000 CAD and its main sponsor is Scotiabank, a corporation.

  • On the other hand, The IVA was created this year as an act of defiance after media executives shamelessly called for the creation of a “cultural appropriation prize” (CBC Radio, 2017). Toronto based lawyer, Robin Parker, set up a crowdfunding campaign which raised over $141 000 CAD to create the prize. Unlike the Giller, the Indigenous Voices Awards (IVA) are currently dependent on the financial support of the public at large. This takes the patronage out of the hands of corporations only and allows the average individual to contribute to the prize. I believe that this model is inclusive and represents another form of diversity, one found in how capital is raised. This also aligns with the IVA’s focus on community. Their mandate states that “the awards [as they are more than one] are intended to support Indigenous artistic communities and to resist the individualism of prize culture” (ILSA, 2017).This instance further shows why the IVA is a direct counterpublic to the Giller.

Looking at the Giller juries since 1994, I noticed that they were almost exclusively white and that when a person of colour was on the panel they were usually a former winner of the prize themselves. Well-known Giller critic Stephen Henighan (2015) argued that the Giller prize was laden with “cozy juries of long-time familiars”, becoming somewhat of a literary Boys Club. Despite the fact that the prize has seen winners of colour such as Esi Edugyan, Madeleine Thien and André Alexis, it is still predominantly Eurocentric and I believe that this is due to the lack of diversity on the judging panel. (I must admit that this year’s prize was an exception).


At the beginning of 2017, I did a dissertation titled “African Diaspora Writers and The Politics of Literary Awards”. My main focus was the Nobel Prize in Literature and the veil of secrecy that shrouds it. I argued that institutional racism was at play in the Swedish Academy, masking itself as “liberal egalitarianism/humanism” (English, 2008) which explains why in the hundred plus years since the prize’s conception, only 3 laureates have been Black. I can argue the same in the case of the Giller Prize with regards to Indigenous writers. Mordecai Richler stated that the organizers of the prize


“don’t give a damn whether a book has been written by a man or a woman, a black, gay, or Native writer, or somebody whose family has been here for 200 years. What [they’ll] be looking for is the best work of fiction published by a Canadian ” (Richler 1994 in Scott 2007).


This statement was made in 1994 and assumed that “Native” people would be placed under the umbrella of Canadianess in assimilation. The Indigenous Voices Awards are turning this on its head by having a jury that is formed of Indigenous academics and writers as well as other people of colour (speaking an array of languages, French and English included).


It would be unjust to scrutinize the prize and not the publishers making the wheels turn. A handful of publishers have been responsible for producing the winning Giller books over the years. These are McClelland and Stewart, Doubleday and Knopf Canada, now all part of the newly formed Penguin Random House. Certain independent presses which contributed to the prize in the past and made the shortlist such as Somerville House and Press Gang, have ceased to exist. A fee of $1500 (“Submissions”, 2017) needs to be paid to submit books for consideration eliminating certain small publishers from the running as this is expensive. I believe that smaller publishers are usually the ones responsible for increasing diversity in the industry.

  • The Indigenous Voices Awards counter this by honouring writers both published and unpublished alike. By doing so they are saying that even work that has not been vetted by a large publisher still deserves to be recognised.
  • Indigenous publisher, Theytus Books, has won numerous awards but none of their titles have been recognised by the Giller. It could be that they do not send their books in for consideration but it is curious that they have won international awards but not the Giller (Theytus Books, 2017). Something I read echoes what Theytus publisher, Gregory Younging implied in his guest lecture to us, “Canadian cultural sovereignty operates at the expense of indigenous sovereignties” (Roberts, 2011). Indigenous literature is viewed as some “other”, inhabiting the periphery of society whilst the Giller adheres to “the dominant construction of Canadianness [which] is still [very] white and Anglophone” (Roberts, 2011). The IVA is therefore crucial in giving Indigenous writers their own agency.



The idea of ranking literature based on the subjective opinions of a handful of people has always been fascinating to me. I know that it is easy to quantify success in sports such as basketball because they are based on point-based systems. But in literature, how can one objectively decide that one piece of work is worth more than another? I ask this but it has been done for centuries and it is not going anywhere. As a raced subject, I recognise my bias in that I almost always side with people of colour and the colonisation of Indigenous people is similar to the colonialism my ancestors and I have faced. It is important for me to point out that I have not resided in Canada for long and that my knowledge of these issues is limited to what I have observed and read in my time here. That being said, I view the strew of Indigenous Voices Awards as the counterpublic to the Giller Prize; they are a platform of cultural autonomy for Indigenous people. I would like to end with a quotation from Sarah Pruys for what we as Indigenous allies can do:


“ Just as the Indigenous community walks in two worlds, so to must publishers. We need to learn how to balance the tangible and intangible; and know both how to help preserve, circulate, and archive culture in a respectful and ethical way, and also know when it is time to take a step back” (Pruys, 2017).


Power to the IVA, I wish them every success.

 Works Cited

Carter, S. (2017). Q&A: Greg Younging on editing indigenous works, story ownership, and Canadian publishing | Quill and Quire. Quill and Quire. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from https://quillandquire.com/omni/qa-greg-younging-on-editing-indigenous-works-story-ownership-and-canadian-publishing/

F, A. (2016). Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics”. PUB800. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from https://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2015/10/michael-warners-publics-and-counterpublics/

Henighan, S. (2015). How a Giller Prize critic got invited to the party. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/how-a-giller-prize-critic-got-invited-to-the-party/article27145924/

Inaugural Competition 2017-2018. (2017). Indigenous Literary Studies Association. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.indigenousliterarystudies.org/-indigenous-voices-award/

Lash, S. (1993). Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives

Pruys, Sarah. (2017). Engagement and Experience: The Other Side of Archiving, Preserving, and Circulating Indigenous Knowledge https://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2017/09/engagement-and-e…genous-knowledge/ ‎

Roberts, G. (2011). Prizing Literature: The Celebration and Circulation of National Culture (Cultural Spaces). University of Toronto Press.

Scotiabank Giller Prize | Submissions. (2017). Scotiabank Giller Prize. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/about/submissions

Scotiabank Giller Prize | Who We Are. (2017). Scotiabank Giller Prize. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/about/prize-history/

Scott, J., & Tucker-Abramson, M. (2007). Banking on a Prize: Multicultural Capitalism and the Canadian Literary Prize Industry. lib.unb.ca. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/scl/article/view/5813/10702licy, while seeing the Giller Prize as part of a new “cosmopolitan” and free-trade-oriented Canadian cultural policy.

Theytus Books. (2017). Theytus Books. Theytus.com. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.theytus.com/Awards

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and counterpublics (abbreviated version). Quarterly Journal Of Speech, 88(4), 413-425. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00335630209384388

‘I invoked cultural appropriation in the context of literature and writing only’: Hal Niedzviecki. (2017). CBC Radio. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-may-15-2017-1.4112604/i-invoked-cultural-appropriation-in-the-context-of-literature-and-writing-only-hal-niedzviecki-1.4112618


Works Consulted

Bethune, B. (2016). Who wins Canada’s literary prizes — and why – Macleans.caMacleans.ca. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.macleans.ca/culture/who-wins-canadas-literary-prizes-and-why/

Andrew-Gee, E. (2016). Coach House Books: Life after winning the Giller PrizeThe Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/coach-house-books-life-after-winning-the-giller-prize/article27259398/

 New literary prize for Indigenous writers to offer $25K in awards. (2017). CBC News. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/indigenous-writers-prize-1.4362221

Ostroff, J. (2017). Emerging Indigenous Voices Literary Award Is The Perfect Response To ‘Appropriation Prize’ ControversyHuffPost Canada. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/05/17/indigenous-voices-literary-award_n_16670050.html

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). (2017). Trc.ca. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=4











One of the more shocking realizations I have experienced recently—not that the content of the realization is shocking, but that the realization never previously occurred—is on the subject of cultural appropriation, and the staggering difference in perception of it between writers and publishers (from my own, anecdotal experience). This revelation came during a talk by Gregory Younging, an indigenous publisher and author of the Elements of Indigenous Style. During this talk, questions and discussions were raised around the importance of indigenous focused texts being authored and edited by people from indigenous cultures, and that white people writing about indigenous culture is cultural appropriation and silences authentic indigenous voices.

When it was discussed and I thought about it, it seemed so obvious, but I had never actually thought about it before. Because, as I learned in writing courses, researching, learning about, and writing from points of views vastly different from my own was the normal, natural way of things. In fact, writers are obligated to use their linguistic prowess to give voice to people that are not themselves or even remotely similar, according to my experience in writing courses.

This quote, by Hari Kunzru, seems to summarize quite well the general inclination of most writers I have read/come across: “Clearly, if writers were barred from creating characters with attributes that we do not “own” (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on), fiction would be impossible. Stories would be peopled by clones of the author. [sic] trespassing into otherness is a foundation of the novelist’s work”1 (Kunzru). However, in a more convincing argument, Nisi Shawl says “if [writers] ignore non-dominant cosmologies and traditions and exclude them from their work and their libraries, writers…could be said to have contributed to their erasure” (Shawl).

I graduated with a degree in music at the University of British Columbia, but I studied (in that I spent most effort, time, and thought on) creative writing. We learned the phrase “write what you know,” but we also learned about doing our research in order to create an authentic voice of someone else. From that perspective it is an innocent practice meant to create art and something new. We learned that writing is to reflect “the human experience.” Not a particular human experience, but the human experience.

In a sense, that is true. The collective efforts of all writers is to reflect the entirety of the human experience which is an interconnected patchwork of near infinite experiences across a shared universe. In another sense, it’s reductive and trivializing of differences between the various human experiences bred from culture and the relationship of one culture to the next.

So far in my time at SFU with the MPUB program, I am seeing far more emphasis on literary works about certain cultures being produced by those same cultures and I am being introduced to the politics of it all, to the actual effect one piece of culturally appropriative writing can have on one from that culture.

The idea that one should only write from one’s own culture is complicated. Setting aside the argument of the definition of culture, one’s definition of cultural appropriation can vary from person to person in terms of the extent to which an outsider utilizes another’s culture in their work. There are all sorts of examples to draw from including recent controversy and older literature considered part of the classic canon.

The obvious, recent one is Joseph Boyden2. With all of the questions leveled against him about his identity, and whether or not he even has indigenous heritage, not only is his authority to represent indigenous voices revoked, but his work can retroactively be perceived as oppressing indigenous voices. He has been such a loud and powerful voice that he has left little room for other voices of indigenous peoples to speak out.

Then there are established literary classic novels like The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, where four points of view are written: a severely mentally handicapped man, another mentally handicapped though higher functioning man, a black servant, and a white man. Three of the four characters are white, but the severely handicapped character, Benji, raises questions not of cultural but of intellectual and experiential appropriation and misrepresenting disabled characters; “…unquestioning acceptance of him as a successful representation of intellectual disability reveals an underlying ableism in the literary critical endeavour and an academic acquiescence to dated socio-cultural constructions of disability” (Vanier). This expands the controversy to not just be about writing about others being people of different cultures but of different intellectual capabilities and cognitive development. To round it out, socioeconomic status, upbringing, gender, and personal identity vastly change one person from another’s experiential understanding of the world—is it oppressive or offensive for a white man of high income to write in the voice of a young white drug-addicted woman on the streets? I raise this question not to trivialize the hurt of marginalized communities that are being stripped of their voices and talked over daily; I raise it to identify the deeply entrenched tradition of writing from other points of view in the cannon of literature.

This essay is predominantly on cultural appropriation so I will not digress far into it, however since I cannot fully relate to someone being culturally appropriated, I would like to draw the comparison of appropriating cognitive capability and experience to contextualize where my argument is coming from. Working with people living with various mental and developmental disabilities as well as living with my own, I have often found the trend of neurotypical people jokingly relating to severe mental illnesses aggravating, and even more so with literature that improperly represents people with disabilities by stacking them up with the stereotypes of that disability5. This perpetuates the trivialization of the serious of the illness. When I see an author with no known or disclosed mental illnesses trying to write in the voice of someone with a mental illness, I prickle with anger and my first instinct is to blacklist that author from my reading list and argue with anyone reading that book to stop reading it. It doesn’t matter how much research that author does, he or she will never be able to fully relate or properly represent somebody actually dealing with mental illnesses. From this perspective I understand why people of marginalized cultures would not want an outsider author writing from their perspective.

In the sphere of fantasy and sci-fi, the appropriation of culture is ubiquitous. From directly basing a fantasy race on an existing culture to creating one from a smorgasbord of various cultures, it can be very problematic. This is only anecdotal now as the website has been deleted, but a blogger I followed, whose premise was to critique issues in fantasy and pop culture in general, being Irish himself, took serious offense from and wrote extensively on the trope of travelling wagon-living people stereotypically derived from the Irish Travellers pejoratively referred to as tinkers3.

It is a common occurrence in fantasy to use other cultures to create the feeling of exoticism to allow the escapism fantasy aims to create. And very often, these other cultures are being represented but for the purpose of appealing to a white western audience and also these cultures are boiled down to their stereotypes that the audience recognize and feel comfortable with, misrepresenting them.

Beyond literature, visual arts and music are chock full of cultural appropriation:



Picasso famously appropriated motifs which originated in the work of African carvers. Painters who are members of mainstream Australian culture have employed styles developed by the aboriginal cultures of Australasia. The jazz and blues styles developed in the context of African-American culture have been appropriated by non-members of the culture from Bix Beiderbecke to Eric Clapton. Paul Simon has incorporated into his music elements of music from South Africa’s townships. The American composer Steve Reich has studied with a master drummer from Ghana and the rhythms of Ewe culture has influenced his compositions. The poet Robert Bringhurst has retold stories produced by members of North American First Nations.

  • Cultural Appropriation and the Arts, pg. 1



Of the above examples, some are ethically unacceptable, but some are ambiguously, debatably acceptable. Just as cultures do not live in a vacuum apart from each other—rather, they mix and mingle—so too will the arts of these cultures come into contact and come away changed and new. However it is imperative that the process by which this happens is sensitive to the myriad of voices that exist in the total tapestry of earth, and that each culture gets a chance not just to speak for itself, but to speak of its experience in relation to the cultures surrounding it.

Circling back a bit to mental illness represented in literature: people with mental illnesses are more and more included in society and literature being a reflection of our world needs to reflect that aspect of our world. It is important that neurotypical authors represent that side of humanity from their own perspective.

This brings me to my main argument: cultural appropriation (and appropriation of any voice) is never okay, but a person does not live exclusively within their own culture; rather they are exposed to a myriad of cultures apart from their own and so should create art that is representative of their own experience and understanding of the world. Faulkner did not write a severely mentally handicapped character and a black character to oppress their own voices; he wrote them to create a rounded picture of a family in a time period. Certainly, the handicapped character was used largely as a literary device, but he managed to write the character with depth and as an integral part of the novel nonetheless.

While “stories should reflect the diversity of our world4,” it is also the diversity  of stories being told from a diversity of authors that will truly and authentically reflect the diversity of our world; one story can only reflect diversity from a single (not very diverse) perspective. But since one’s experience and understanding of the world is affected by the various interrelationships of peoples and cultures around them, stories should include this aspect to properly capture the complexity of existing. There’s a balance and it’s important for one to understand this balance.

In essence, a single author must absolutely write a story within complex and complicated settings of diversity, but that is only one author’s perspective on diversity and not an authentic voice representing another culture; it is an authentic voice representing his/her understanding of another culture, and this must be seriously considered not only by an author when choosing to include other culture in a work, but also by publishers when deciding what to push out into the world, and how to position it in its deliverance.

When writers, artists, or any other person, say things like “We wouldn’t have Eric Clapton without him appropriating black culture” or “this person of colour here liked the white author’s novel from a person of colour’s perspective” and therefore “cultural appropriation is fine and dandy and even encouraged in the arts,” they are entirely missing the point (not actual quotations). Even if they do their research and represent the cultures other than their own half-decently, they are still stealing the opportunity for someone from that culture to say it themselves, with more authority.

As publishers we need to be absolutely critical and aware of the spotlight and who is in it, and we need to make sure all voices are being allowed time on the podium. Publishers are the gatekeepers (including self-publishers). The responsibility falls on publishers to ensure representation of one culture is not grifted from an authentic voice and that the diverse reflection of our world in text gets equal diversity in representation by writer.





1This article is a collection of opinion pieces defending the right to culturally appropriate by authors: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/01/novelists-cultural-appropriation-literature-lionel-shriver


2For a more indepth, dualistic exploration of this controversy, consider, Joseph Boyden’s side ( http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/my-name-is-joseph-boyden/ ) and the accusations leveled against him ( https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/wnd97z/what-colour-is-your-beadwork-joseph-boyden ).


3For an overview of Irish Travelers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Travellers#cite_note-2


4A good introductory article on striking the balance: http://www.jimchines.com/2014/05/diversity-appropriation/


5A good, short read on the popularized use of OCD and the problem with its usage: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/02/ocd-is-a-disorder-not-a-quirk/385562/








Boyden, Joseph. “My Name is Joseph Boyden.” Macleans.ca August 2, 2017. Accessed October 30, 2017. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/my-name-is-joseph-boyden/


Coombe, Rosemary J. “The Properties of Culture and the Politics of Possessing Identity: Native Claims in the Cultural Appropriation Controversy.” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Volume 6, Issue 2. June 9, 2015.


Couchie, Aylan. “Commentary: Let’s Start with what Cultural Appropriation is not.” Globalnews.ca May 19, 2017. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://globalnews.ca/news/3463986/commentary-lets-start-with-what-cultural-appropriation-is-not/


Hagi, Sarah. “A Bunch of White Canadian Editors Really Love Cultural Appropriation.” Vice.com May 12, 2017. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/pg7q8m/a-bunch-of-white-canadian-editors-really-love-cultural-appropriation


Hines, Jim C. “Diversity, Appropriation, and Writing the Other.” Jimchines.com May 1, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2017. http://www.jimchines.com/2014/05/diversity-appropriation/


J.C. “Art for All.” The-tls.co.uk September 13, 2017. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/art-for-all-cultural-appropriation/


Johnstone, Ingrid and Mangat, Jyoti. “Reading Practices, Postcolonial Literature, and Cultural Mediation in the Classroom.” (Chapter 3). Springer Science & Business Media, March 24, 2012.


Kay, Jonathan. “Why is Joseph Boyden’s Indigenous Identity being Quesitoned?” thewalrus.ca December 28, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://thewalrus.ca/why-is-joseph-boydens-indigenous-identity-being-questioned/


Langan, Michael D. “Commentary: Cultural Appropriation—good or bad?” September 25, 2017. Accessed October 30, 2017. http://www.nbc-2.com/story/36444373/commentary-cultural-appropriation-good-or-bad


Lawton Andrew. “Commentary: Is Cultural Appropriation an Act of Theft or Artistic Literary Exploration?” globalnews.ca May 19, 2017. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://globalnews.ca/news/3459237/commentary-is-cultural-appropriation-an-act-of-theft-or-artistic-literary-exploration/


Mcmahon, Ryan. “What Colour is your Beadwork, Joseph Boyden?” vice.com December 30, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/wnd97z/what-colour-is-your-beadwork-joseph-boyden


Rogers, Richard A. “From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation.” Communication Theory, Colume 16, Issue 4 (474–503). November 6, 2006.


Russell, Andrew. “What you need to know about the cultural appropriation debate.” Globalnews.ca May 19, 2017. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://globalnews.ca/news/3464337/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-cultural-appropriation-debate/


Shawl, Nisi. “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation.” Irosf.com October, 2004. Accessed October 30, 2017. http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10087


Tipu, Fatima. “OCD is Not a Quirk.” Theatlantic.com February 22, 2015. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/02/ocd-is-a-disorder-not-a-quirk/385562/


Vanier, Jean. “Becoming Human.” House of Anansi, 1998. Excerpted in Faulkner, William’s “The Sound and the Fury,” W.W. Norton & Co. 2016.


Various. “Irish Travellers.” Wikipedia. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Travellers#cite_note-2


Young, Helen. “Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness.” Routledge, August 11, 2015.


Young, James O. “Cultural Appropriation and the Arts.” John Wiley & Sons, 2010.


Ziff, Bruce H. and Rao, Pratima V. “Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation.” Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Diversity within children’s literature has been a long standing issue that has gained a tremendous amount of attention in the past five years. This has resulted in an ongoing discourse  about the lack of diversity and how best to make children’s literature more representative of all the children reading and consuming books that are being published. The lack of diversity within the publishing industry is obviously a contributing factor, with approximately  79% of publishing employees being white/Caucasian (Low 2016). However the successful marketing also plays an integral role in the success, and therefore profitability, of diverse books in the children’s publishing industry.

Successful marketing of diverse books is integral to the overall success and profitability of the book. This is because it is marketing that dictates the audience, key selling features, and positioning of the book within the market to retailers and in turn the consumer. How a book is marketed can therefore make the difference between a best seller or a book that goes unnoticed and is lost amidst the overabundance of titles that are currently in print and available for sale. Therefore a keen understanding of the diversity of the market is necessary to accurately position a book within it. Jean Ho (2016) highlights Kima Jones who runs a publicity company as  an expert in culturally specific marketing. Jones has been brought in to other publishing companies to assist specifically with the cultural marketing on particular titles and also works to promote her clients’ work that represents their diversity, “whether that’s a culturally specific campaign or organizing a national tour aimed to draw as many attendees as possible across the country.” Hannah Ehrlich (as quoted in Ho, 2016) explains that “when you’re marketing diverse books, it’s important to build connections with influencers within communities that the book is about who will become the evangelists.” Each title may have a unique set of “evangelists” but the most common found within children’s literature are librarians and classroom educators. Current trends within education are showing a demand for diversity within the classroom and this includes the need for diverse books. Improving how diverse books are being marketed to teachers and librarians is necessary in order gain these “evangelists”. One potential way to improve marketing of diverse books is to have these titles better highlighted within marketing catalogues. As previously stated successful marketing is integral to prevent titles from getting lost in the vast array of titles currently on the market. Krista Mitchell (2016) explains that “discoverability has always been a major hurdle for publishers… Maybe it’s time we start calling for more diverse catalogues.” For example Groundwood books has created a catalogue specifically to showcase their culturally diverse titles. Providing a unique space in which to display these titles will make it easier for those invested in diversity within children’s literature, such as classroom educators and librarians, to access information about available titles. As this catalogue is still a recent development for the company it is unknown what the long term effects are and if this marketing decision is successful or not, however it shows that Groundwood books is invested in finding new and alternative ways to improve the marketing of diverse books and other publishing companies need to follow suit.

Conversely one issue that has occurred within the marketing of diverse books is the view that these titles are a part of a niche market and are therefore not marketed to a wider public. June Cummins (2017) explains some of the intricacies of children’s literature through a Critical Race Theory lens and explains that “white maleness is so hegemonic that it is considered neutral… [resulting in] the assumption that white maleness is ‘normal.'” (p. 97). Therefore everything outside of this white maleness is considered niche. Classifying books as diverse can aid those searching for titles with these themes however it also labels these books as “other”. Therefore a delicate balance between making these titles easily accessible and also not being branded as exclusively for a niche market is integral to the success of diversifying children’s literature. Ramona Caponegro (2017) expresses a need for two types of diverse books, those that focus overtly on issues of diversity and those that feature characters outside of the white male hegemony where issues of diversity are not the primary focus. Caponegro explains that the need for these two distinct types of books is because “books about our common humanity may make cultural differences seem less threatening. Yet, precisely because cultural differences are still feared, we also need ‘issues’ books.” (p. 126) Caponegro argues that books that focus on the shared humanity of all people will work to deconstruct fear associated with the “other”. Similarly there is a need for diverse characters within genre specific books in children’s literature, such as fantasy, so that readers across genres can encounter diverse characters. However Caponegro acknowledges the intersectionality of experience and the still profound need for books that overtly focus on themes and issues of diversity. Publishing companies need to be careful that their marketing and branding of diverse titles is not done so in a way that reflects that it is only intended for a small and niche audience. Rather they should highlight selling points of an individual title by including but not solely focusing on the diversity within the book.

One of the reasons that children’s publishing companies are hesitant to produce diverse books is the fear that they will not be profitable. Christopher Meyers (2014), son of famed author Walter Dean Meyers, discusses at length in his article “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” the profound lack of diversity in children’s literature and the harmful repercussions this has on children. Meyers comes to the conclusion that “The Market” is responsible for the lack of diversity in children’s literature. It is evident through Meyers’ tone that The Market is not actually at fault but that it has become the scapegoat that the publishing industry shifts blame onto. Meyers laments that “The Market, I am told, just doesn’t demand this kind of book, doesn’t want book covers to look this or that way, and so the representative from (insert major bookselling company here) has asked that we have only text on the book cover because white kids won’t buy a book with a black kid on the cover — or so The Market says.” The Market in this article is presented as a pre-existing and non-changing entity that dictates what books will and will not sell. This notion is however troubled when Meyers points out instances where The Market does change and allows for new and different types of children’s books, such as the rise in popularity of fantasy. The Market is no different than Warner’s (2002) concepts of publics. Just as there is not one Public, there is also not just one Market. The Market is not a unified and homogenous group that is fixed but rather a series of publics that are organized through the distribution of texts and are constantly changing and evolving. The publication of texts is done with an intended public in mind but it is also the responsibility of the publisher to adequately market so that the potential public is formed. Meyers explains that throughout his time working in the children’s publishing industry he’s “heard editors and publishers bemoan the dismal statistics, and promote this or that program that demonstrates their company’s ‘commitment to diversity.’ With so much reassurance, it is hard to point fingers, but there are numbers and truths that stand in stark contrast to the reassurances.” It is not enough for publishing companies to simply acknowledge the problem but actual progress needs to be made. Diverse books are being written and it is not up to just the author to ensure that they are made available, but the publishing companies need to better market these titles to find their intended publics.

The success of diverse books in children’s literature is so dependent on proper marketing by publishing companies. Culturally specific marketing needs to occur so that titles can be successful and find their “evangelists” who will continue to promote the books. However the marketing should not be done in such a way that diverse books are presented as simply for small niche audiences and segregated away from other titles that are available. Finally the idea that diverse books are unprofitable and that The Market is a force working against making children’s literature more diverse is false and fails to represent the role of the publishing company in finding and marketing to different publics. Significant work has been started to improve the state of children’s literature but there is still much more that needs to be done to properly represent all children readers.


Works Cited

Caponegro, R. (2017). Peter’s Legacy: The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. In K. B. Kidd & J. T. Thomas Jr. (Eds.), Prizing Children’s Literature: The Cultural Politics and Children’s Book Awards (pp. 118–129). Routledge.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center. (n.d.). Publishing Statistics on Children’s Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations and by People of Color and First/Native Nations Authors and Illustrators. Retrieved from https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

Cummins, J. (2017). The Still Almost All-White World of Children’s Literature: Theory, Practice, and Identity-Based Children’s Book Awards. In K. B. Kidd & J. T. Thomas, Jr. (Eds.), Prizing Children’s Literature: The Cultural Politics and Children’s Book Awards (pp. 87–103). Routledge.

Ehrlich, H. (2015, March 5). The Diversity Gap in Children’s Publishing, 2015. Retrieved from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2015/03/05/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-publishing-2015/

Ho, J. (2016, August 9). Diversity In Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/09/483875698/diversity-in-book-publishing-isnt-just-about-writers-marketing-matters-too

Low, J. T. (2016, January 26). Where is the Diversity in Publishing?  The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results. Retrieved from http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/

Ly, D. V.-K. (2017, April 19). Publishing Diversity with The Boy & The Bindi: A Case Study of the First Children’s Picture Book From Arsenal Pulp Press. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved from http://summit.sfu.ca/item/17278

Mitchell, K. (2016, March 8). We Need Diverse Catalogues. Retrieved from https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2016/3/8/we-need-diverse-catalogues?rq=children

Myers, C. (2014, March 15). The Apartheid of Children’s Literature. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-apartheid-of-childrens-literature.html

Warner, M. (2002). Publics and Counterpublics (abbreviated version). Quarterly Journal of Speech, 88(4), 413–425. Retrieved from http://knowledgepublic.pbworks.com/f/warnerPubCounterP.pdf

Women at Work

I have heard from many people that publishing is a female trade: there are many more women working in this industry than their male counterparts. This is certainly true for Simon Fraser University’s Master of Publishing program. Most of the cohorts over the years have been comprised mostly—or entirely—of women. So why exactly is it so difficult for women to reach the top in a seemingly female-dominated industry? And, with so many female editors, why is it still so hard for women to get published? It is obvious to me that, with such an abundance of females swarming the business, it really is in our hands to push ourselves to the forefront, or at least a little closer to it.

Let’s begin by examining the extent of the role women actually play in publishing. In 2015, Lee & Low Books conducted what they call a “Diversity Baseline Survey,” which analyzed the breakdown of race, gender, orientation, and disability in the North American publishing industry. What they found was that 78% of the industry overall is dominated by cisgendered women. The surveyors break their numbers down further, identifying that women outnumber men in editorial, sales, and marketing and publicity departments by 54-69% (Low 2016). It is obvious that women have the numbers in this business, and we should be able to run the show. However, Lee & Low Books’ survey also covered the number of cisgendered women in executive positions; this percentage is a lot lower at 59%. Of course, that is still higher than the male executives, but let’s keep in mind that the industry is overrun with women in all other departments. It logically follows that with so many women along the ladder, the top rung would be occupied by a similar percentage of ladies. In my research I came across the term pink ghetto, which refers to a job dominated by women who have little chance of moving up. By this definition, the publishing industry certainly is a pink ghetto. Judy Brunsek, vice-president of sales and marketing at HarperCollins, offers some insight into what might happen if women were more present in executive committees. She believes “typically women will be much more willing to discuss things, and take various issues and come to a consensus, while making sure that all the pros and cons are tabled,” and that “quite frankly … women don’t shy away from saying the bad stuff too.” Cynthia Good, president of Penguin Canada, added “emotional intelligence—I think that’s what we have. I think we’re able to look at larger pictures. I think that women look at implications, and the ways the ripples of decision-making work out” (Hussey et al. 1999). Obviously women are well-equipped for these directorial roles, but we still aren’t filling them.


Laura Meyer, chief information officer at HarperCollins UK, believes the solution is to push for what we want, and what we deserve. She says “I am a big believer in your career being your own responsibility. It is looking at how you can get to your goals. Who do you need to get advice from? What courses do you need?” (Wood & Shaffi 2015). Women aren’t getting these higher up positions because of sexism, it’s as simple as that. There is downward pressure from society in many facets including a general history of repression and patriarchy. Once we recognize this is happening we can fight against it, and work towards our industry goals. The problem will be solved once we all recognize talent and hard work for what it is, and not who is behind it. The hard part is figuring out the best method to achieve this unencumbered equality, which is, of course, a problem that has nipped at the heels of feminists for as long as feminism has existed.

While you work through that first item on the agenda, I will introduce a second problem: male authors. That is not to say male authors are a problem, just that there are so many of them running amok. This again is a product of—are you ready?—The patriarchy! American author slash literary critic Matthew Jakubowski believes the publishing industry favours men. He says “the result of this investment by publishers is that readers and literary critics are guided toward books by men. We become eager to be part of what’s promoted as big book news, more comfortable talking about a newly celebrated male author” (Flood 2014). In 2015, novelist Kamila Shamsie confirmed that only 40% of the books submitted to the Man Booker prize in the previous five years had been written by women. Shamsie sees no other reasoning for such a low female presence than sexism. “I’m going to assume that the only people who really doubt that there is a gender bias going on are those who stick with the idea that men are better writers and better critics, and that when men recommend books by men it is fair literary judgment, while when women recommend books by women it is either a political position or woolly feminine judgment” (2015). So I guess men choosing men is unbiased, but women choosing women is furthering a radical feminist agenda

Now that we’re on the topic, let’s discuss the ones actually buying the books. Researchers Kathryn Zickuhr and Lee Rainie conducted a survey in 2013 that showed 82% of women had read a book in the past 12 months, while only 69% of men had done the same (2014). Something seems wrong here. There is a myriad of women behind the scenes publishing the books, which are eventually read by a mostly-female audience. Why do we keep publishing so many books written by men? Surely women want to read more women, right? My hypothesis is that since literature is so saturated with books written by men, statistically speaking, male books are more likely to win the prizes, and the publishers want to publish the books that win the prizes, and it turns into an endless cycle that pushes female writers further and further into the background.



Catherine Nichols is an author who conducted her own experiment in order to fight this system. When only two out of 50 agents were interested in her novel, she decided to submit it again, this time under a male pseudonym. This second submission yielded 17 out of 50 agent bites. “[‘George’] is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book,” Nichols said. (Flood 2015). In this example, the sole variable is the gender of the author’s name, which allows us to conclude that it is gender alone that determines whether or not agents will predict a book to be successful. We can also deduce from this experiment that people believe male writing to be superior to that of a woman. This, I assure you, is unequivocal assumption.

“It’s not at all clear what it means to write ‘like a man’ or ‘like a woman,’ but perhaps it’s still taken for granted, often unconsciously and thus insidiously, that men write like men and women like women—or at least that they should. And perhaps it’s assumed that women writers will not write anything important—anything truly serious or necessary, revelatory or wise” writes author Francine Prose in her article “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are women writers really inferior?” (1998). According to Prose, we have a tendency to give hierarchical importance to subject matter according to the gender of its writer. “Speaking crudely, football and sport are ‘important’; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes ‘trivial.’ … This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing room. A scene in a battlefield is more important than a scene in a shop … ” (Woolf, qtd. in Prose 1998). “But there is no male or female language, only the truthful or fake, the precise or vague, the inspired or the pedestrian. If, in the future, some weird cataclysm should scramble or erase all the names of authors from all the books in all the libraries, readers may have trouble … telling whether Emma Bovary and Hester Prynne were created by women or men. The only distinction that will matter will be between good and bad writing” (Prose 1998). And so it should be. Our classification needs to be decided on literary merit, not on the sex of the author. Reform will happen when we decide to religiously adhere to what we value as good writing, and nothing more.



The publishing industry defies expectations. We are a group of women publishing books for women to read, and yet we have not figured out how to support women’s success within the business, be it by rising through the ranks or getting published ourselves. We have the numbers, we just need to figure out how to use our masses to our advantage. Feminism is stronger than ever, and I believe we have the means to accomplish great strides in this field. And who knows, maybe we fresh publishing graduates can help make a feminine difference in the world of publishing.

Works Cited

Flood, Alison. “‘Year of reading women’ declared for 2014.” The Guardian. January 22, 2014. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/22/year-of-reading-women-2014-bias-male-writers.

Flood, Alison. “Sexism in publishing: ‘My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me, Catherine’.” The Guardian. August 06, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/06/catherine-nichols-female-author-male-pseudonym.

Hussey, Valerie, Carol Toller, Cynthia Good, Nicole Brebner, and Judy Brunsek. “Taking the Next Step: Women Discuss Careers, Family and what it Takes to Get to the Top in Canadian Publishing.” Quill & Quire 65 (4): 12-13. April 1999. Accessed September 21, 2017.

Low, Jason T. “Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results.” Lee & Low Blog. February 10, 2016. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/.

Prose, Francine. “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are women writers really inferior?” Harper’s Magazine (June 1998): 61-70. https://harpers.org/archive/1998/06/scent-of-a-womans-ink/?single=1

Scottbaiowulf. “Male writers writing female characters.” Tumblr.com. December 27, 2016. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://scottbaiowulf.tumblr.com/post/155051134816/male-writers-writing-female-characters.

Shamsie, Kamila. “Kamila Shamsie: let’s have a year of publishing only women – a provocation.” The Guardian. June 05, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/05/kamila-shamsie-2018-year-publishing-women-no-new-books-men.

Wood, Felicity, and Shaffi, Sarah. “Glass ceiling hinders women in the trade.” The Bookseller. February 13, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.thebookseller.com/news/glass-ceiling-hinders-women-trade.

Zickuhr, Kathryn, and Lee Rainie. “A Snapshot of Reading in America in 2013.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. January 16, 2014. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/01/16/a-snapshot-of-reading-in-america-in-2013/#.

        Diversity has always been a big issue in this world, whether in a business or in a community. This thought didn’t occur to me until I was sitting in my editing class, scanning around the room and I thought, “Wow, most of my classmates are women .. and white.” They –my classmates are gonna be few of the many people that will enter the industry in the near future and they do fit to the statement : white women rule the publishing industry. Coming from the non-white pool, I then realized that growing up, most of the books I read are surprisingly White : white characters, white culture, even white sayings. Furthermore, the presence of most books feel “feminine”, a sign that they are specifically targeted for women.

A survey done by children’s book publisher Lee & Low in 2016 shows that 78% of the industry overall are female and 79% of them are Caucasian while just 4% are black, 7% are Asian, 6% are Hispanic, and less than 5% are Native American, Middle Eastern, or biracial. Lee & Low sent more than 13,000 surveys to publishing employees in North America –which got a response rate of 25% including from the Big Five like Penguin Random House and MacMillan and the results are as follow :


Data : Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey


Lee & Low’s survey also shows that the proportion of books that is considered “multicultural” are as low as 10% for the past 18 years. This number raises concerns, as the sound from the people of color will not be heard if the acquisition editor keeps cultivating contents and authors that fit their interest; the white interest. Lack representation of multicultural people also limits innovation in this industry as publishers keep publishing books with the same tone, same approach, same setting, same culture, and same traits over and over again. Uniformity does not breed innovation and great minds think differently. Variety is needed to succeed, even in the industry where white-American culture is considered “the culture” of each published materials. Culture also affects on why people of color see the publishing industry as less appealing than any other industries. They grew up with a doctrine that they should get a practical job –like accountant, lawyer or doctor to get paid well. Being an author or an editor is unheard of and they will not take the risk of jumping into the business that does not fit the criteria.

Although few of publishing houses have thrown efforts to launch the diversity initiative, it still apparents that the industry is still blindingly white. Hachette for example, has founded a diversity committee in 2014 to improve its hiring and retention of diverse candidates. They also said that minimum 50% of its intern pool is made up of diversed candidate. Simon & Schuster had also held an internship class in 2015 which ranged from 66% to 80% diverse. Penguin Random House also initiates supports for students writing contest at “economically and ethnically diverse” New York City high schools.

Lack of male representation has also become a problem in the publishing industry. Men are generally dictated to become financially able and the industry has not exactly given in to that stereotype.  Low wages and the impracticality of the job have no appeal for men, especially for the entry-level jobs. Dr. Mary Gatta, a professor in the department of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University said that what discouraging men from taking jobs at publishing is because when a certain field is “gendered” like nurse and plumber, it becomes associated with the dominant sex in the jobs and very often the other sex voluntarily stays away.

It is also understandable that an industry should be run by people who represent most audience and in this case, the biggest audience for books are women. It does not matter if the people running the business are female or male, because they will likely both struggle with getting men and boys to read. Lindy Hess, director of the graduate Columbia Publishing Course also said that certain industry, like publishing, has been traditionally more open to women, mostly because of the assumption that women read more than men. Same thing goes with most publishing programs and courses. David Unger, heads of CUNY’s program, said that in the summer of 2009, only two of 12 students were men, but in the spring of 2010 three of eight students were men. This most likely to happen because the job market are getting more competitive, especially for positions in finance and technology, thus making more men consider publishing as their choosing. However, that doesn’t mean that publishing will get more diverse in the following years. It is still something to think about because publishing industry can not be compared with other industries like nursing or plumbing, as publishing has wider range of audience which mainly rely on the use of creative mind. Women and men see the world differently, so it is much healthier for the industry to have more sets of different minds in order to reach broader audiences and to represent those who might need representation, even if they only exist in the smallest percentage of the books population.

In another words, does the industry really need the diversity? Yes, it does. Book publishing is a creative industry and creativity does not come in one set of mind only. Do you want to publish a book about what men like in sex? Then ask the men! Do you want to publish a book about Asian culture? Then ask the Asian! Generalization of readers are not the solution. Readers also have to be more vocal about what they want to read and the publisher should be more active on making it happen.  It is not always about following what is always be, but what is supposed to be.



Works Cited :


Anderson, Porter. August 1, 2017. “Sophie de Closets on Women in Publishing : ‘What Troubles Me Is the Lack of Men.” Accessed September 20, 2017.



Kean, Danuta. May 11, 2017. “Are things getting worse for women in publishing?” Accessed September 20, 2017.



Deahl, Rachel. March 11, 2016, “Why Publishing Is So White.” Accessed September 20, 2017.



Caplan-Bricker, Nora. February 1, 2016. “New Survey Confirms Straight White Women’s Domination of Book Publishing.” Accessed September 20, 2017.




Howard, Kait. February 1, 2016. “White women run publishing?” Accessed September 20, 2017.



Wang, Amy. January 28, 2016. “While business and politics are ruled by straight white men, book publishing is ruled by straight white women.” Accessed September 20, 2017.



Sturgeon, Jonathon. January 28, 2016. “Book Publishing Is Almost as White as the Oscars.” Accessed September 20, 2017.



Young Lee, Paula. January 26, 2016. “White women of publishing : New survey shows a lack of diversity behind the scenes in book world.” Accessed September 20, 2017.




Deahl, Rachel. September 20, 2010. “Where the boys are not.” Accessed September 20, 2017.