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The Gender Gap

I write this blog today with hesitation. We are living in the 21st century. Does the gender gap among writers, readers and publishers still exist? The inspiration for my thoughts is the publication of Richard Ford’s new novel, “Canada.” He is one of a triumvirate of fine white male writers which includes Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. Sadly, Raymond Carver is no longer with us, but Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford are still writing with gusto. I cannot think of a congerie of white female writers who have written with as much depth or constancy. Why not? The answer to this question will be found among the ruminations of sociologists, psychologists, historians and anthropologists, and not this year.

My concern today is with literature and its legacy. Which books will last, become classics? Of the African-American authors—Toni Morrison and Alice Walker for example—we can be sure of a lasting legacy, but name me, please, a white female writer whose book will be remembered in fifty years. Why F.Scott and not Zelda? “The Great Gatsby” is a masterpiece, as are some of the short stories, but Zelda’s “Save Me The Waltz,” is by far a greater work than any novel by her husband, other than Gatsby. Some think that Zelda went mad from both alcohol and Scott’s denigration of her talent. She ended her life in an asylum.

I am a big Richard Ford fan and downloaded “Canada,” onto my Kindle before it had been reviewed. I knew it would be good; he has never disappointed. And I began reading a collection of his short stories, “Multitude of Sins,” as a warm-up. The stories I have read so far are about adultery, and Ford captures both the male and female point of view with precision and compassion. And though at one time I had thought that Ford had anti-Semitic aspirations—if that is possible—putting words and ideas into his characters mouths that were hard to read, I now understand that these are exactly the thoughts and words his characters might have; the author is not the character. Politically incorrect? No. Honest. If this is how characters speak and feel, than this is how they speak and feel. So I trust that Ford will deliver with “Canada,” and be well remembered as a “great” American novelist after his lifetime.

Then I got to thinking about having become, unexpectedly, a thriller writer with the publication of “Say Nothing.” How many female political thriller writers are there? Murder mystery writers, yes. But political thriller writers? Would it have been easier for my agent to sell the book to a mainstream publisher if I had been male? As I am not male, and did not use a male nom de plume, there is no way to know this, of course, but I did have an experience a few years ago which makes me wonder. Frustrated at being unable to sell an essay, I changed my byline to C. Bergman. Nearly instantaneously, I received hearty, admiring, long replies from editors, male and female. The essay was published with that truncated non-gender specific byline. Maybe I should try it again.

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