09 October 2013

Parity in Publishing?

On Wednesday, 16 October, the University of Connecticut in Storrs will host a panel on “Gendered Publishing: The State of the Profession for Women Writers and Illustrators of Children’s Literature.” The discussion starts at 6:30 in the Class of 1947 Room of the Homer Babbidge Library. Participants are:

  • Barbara McClintock, author/illustrator
  • Gene Kannenberg, Jr., director of ComicsResearch.org
  • Lisa Rowe Fraustino, professor and department chair of English at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU)
  • Susannah Richards, associate professor of Education at ECSU and member of the 2013 Newbery Award Committee
On that recurring topic, last month The Horn Book published Martha Parravano’s essay “It’s Always Men’s Night at the Caldecott.” Since we live in the Most Overstated Era EVUH!, we can accept that Parravano’s “Always” actually referred to men winning the Caldecott Medal 63% of the time over seventy-five years. Over the last twenty years, male artists have been even more commonly rewarded: sixteen men and four women have won the Medal.

However, a commenter signing on as “Scope Notes” noted:
Total side note here, but an interesting thing I’ve found is that the Newbery has nearly identical numbers, but in reverse – 66% female to 34% male.
Over the past twenty years, fourteen women and six men have won the Newbery Medal—again, a growing disparity.

Of course, we should include a much harder factor to measure: how many men and women are writing or illustrating children’s books? Which gets us to another question: how many women and men are trying?

I started attending SCBWI conferences about twenty years ago, and immediately saw how women outnumbered men in the audience. In organizing those conferences, we always ask the host hotel to turn a men’s bathroom into a ladies’ room for the day. Yet the gender ratio of people on the podium—i.e., the authors and artists who have achieved recognition in the field—is usually closer to parity.

Adding to the complexity of the issue is how most parts of the children’s-literature chain—literary agencies, publishing departments, review journals, library staffs—are more female than male, though not as often at the top. And then there’s the question of who’s reading the most books.

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