Famous Black male Authors
Last week, The Rumpus published a piece by Roxane Gay titled “Where Things Stand, ” in which Gay reported that nearly 90 percent of books reviewed in The New York Times are written by whites. Gay researched the racial background of every author critiqued by the paper in 2011. She yielded predictably striking results: 31 black authors, 655 white ones. Eighty-one reviewed books in all by writers of color. “I don’t know how to solve this problem or what to do with this information, ” wrote Gay, who is black. Still. “I like knowing where things stand.”
Two days after Gay’s count hit, a writer at Poynter called me, looking to commission a piece on the subject. We are both white. We first worked together several years ago, at a newspaper edited by a white man, then again at a website edited by the same white man. When we left, we both recommended each other to different white female editors, who would later hire us in newsrooms staffed with mostly white writers and editors. This is the grim reality of the mainstream journalism network. But as I navigated a series of publications helmed by white men stacked all the way to the top, the success of a white female writer like me seemed like some kind of demographic victory.Roxane Gay: “It’s an easy out—oh, it’s way too hard to figure out the race thing."
Gay’s count comes on the heels of widespread media concern over the lack of representation of women in literary journalism. VIDA, an organization for women in the literary arts, has assessed the gender breakdown of major literary publications for two years running. In March, GOOD Magazine, where I worked until recently, published my own gender count of the bylines at publications targeting young readers. When white author Jonathan Franzen published his novel “Freedom” to fawning reviews in 2010, white author Jodi Picoult questioned the media’s outsized veneration of male writers. On NPR, white author Jennifer Weiner debated the issue with The New York Times Book Review's white editor Sam Tanenhaus.