Reviewing and Race in US Publications

You’ve seen the VIDA count, which tracks how many books, of those reviewed in mainstream publications, were by women. Recently, over at The Nation, Roxanne Gay gave a shot at tracking how many nonwhite writers’ books were reviewed (including translations):

surveyYou will probably not be shocked to note that the majority of reviews were of books by pale-skinned authors. The very broad grouping of “Asian/South Asian” (which includes the majority of the world’s population) comes in second with three of the four surveyed publications. Other categories were, broadly: Latino, African/African-American, Middle Eastern, and Native American. Each got a nominal number in comparison with the behemoth: Caucasian.

Gay confirmed, via Twitter, that the survey didn’t differentiate between translations and literature written in English.

There are, as Gay notes, precious few slots for book reviews or criticism in mainstream publications; few and growing fewer. But beyond that, there are even precious fewer slots for books not written by white authors.

The publications Gay looked at all came in with around 10% of reviewed books by non-white authors. “The Los Angeles Review of Books is most diverse, with 12.9 percent of their review coverage going to books written by writers of color. Bookforum brings in the rear at 8.7 percent and NPR and The New York Review of Books are tied, with 10.7 percent of their coverage going to books written by writers of color.”

Thursday, Gay wrote on Twitter:

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Which she followed with:

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Although, as freelancer Anna Clark noted, the issue doesn’t only lie with reviewers: “I consistently pitch reviews of books in translation, especially, and by women/non-white authors. Hits a wall.”

Gay added: “That too. I hope that if more reviewers make a stand, review editors will follow suit, or vice versa. Whatever works.”

Do you see this changing? How? 

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2 comments

  1. This only confirms what I have been battling for years. But let me pull your coat slightly. I do this with anyone who used the phrase “nonwhite”. This , in my view, is a lazy and insulting phrase, loaded with white privilege. It describes people as an absence, ie “nonwhite”. It reminds me of one of Darwish’s titles: In the Presence of Absence. But for many Americans (and Brits) the phrase “nonwhite”, for me ( and I am a white Jewish heterosexual male), is repulsive because it belittles the majority of the people of the world. The many academics, and writers, and reviewers and critics who use “nonwhite” in their language are either insensitive, oblivious, or so full of their privilege, so bloated in the upper echelons, that they cant even see their own language abuse. It nauseates me.

    Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2013 16:16:37 +0000 To: erbrill@hotmail.com

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    • You’re right, Ernie, the term nonwhite is a bad one. It’s not much more useful than “nondark” — with all shades of paleness on the opposite side of the spectrum.

      Indeed, Gay used “Caucasian,” which to me seems to sidestep the issue. I can’t really think of a good term; any one I can put in place regurgitates what we’re trying to get away from.

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