Adonis Diaries

Statistics on Reviewing books of “Writers of Color”?

Posted on: June 9, 2012

Statistics on Reviewing books of “writers of color”? 
You must be suspicious that women are underrepresented in certain echelons of publishing, as in many public and private positions.
You must be suspicious that writers of color are likely to face similar issues in the publishing business and reviewing of their books and manuscripts.

Evidence of proofs will go a long way.  is trying to do just that in “Where Things Stand“, posted on June 6, 2012 (with slight editing):

“After the VIDA counts in 2010 and 2011, as well as Jennifer Weiner’s count (released on her blog in January 2012), I wanted to see where things stood for writers of color.

Race often gets lost in the gender conversation as if it’s an issue we’ll get to later.

As I considered this problem, I had no proof, and people want proof.  And even when you do have proof, people will try to discount your findings. We’ve seen this with birthers and global warming deniers and the like.

I went on a fact-finding mission and found some facts.

These counts are really difficult to execute. A lot of the data compilation requires painstaking work and there are few guarantees of accuracy. There is no centralized database tracking the gender or race of the writers who are published or reviewed in major publications.

Most of the data compilation, particularly when it comes to race, is approximations.

I tasked my graduate assistant, Philip Gallagher, with looking at every book review published in the New York Times in 2011, identifying the race and gender of the reviewed titles’ authors. The New York Times is one of the preeminent book review outlets. We only looked at one year.

The project took 14 weeks, with Philip going at it for about sixteen hours each week. Information for some authors was more readily available than others. Some information was simply ambiguous. Some information could not be found.

We originally set out to look at several major publications but without an army of volunteers, it will never be possible to compile a dataset on race similar to VIDA’s. It is simply too difficult to identify race without a great deal of effort and even then, it’s hard to know just how accurate that data is.

We looked at 742 books reviewed, across all genres:  655 were written by Caucasian authors (1 transgender writer, 437 men, and 217 women). Thirty-one (out of 81 written by Africans or African-Americans were reviewed (21 men, 10 women), 9 were written by Hispanic authors (8 men, 1 woman), 33 by Asian, Asian-American or South Asian writers (19 men, 14 women), 8 by Middle Eastern writers (5 men, 3 women) and 6 were books written by writers whose racial background we were simply unable to identify.

The numbers are depressing and I cannot say I am shocked. The numbers reflect the overall trend in publishing where the majority of books published are written by white writers.

Writers were grouped into rather broad racial and ethnic categories. Without data about how many books were published by writers, across race, it’s hard to know if the numbers are proportionate or not.

The numbers are grim. Nearly 90% of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white writers ( Caucasians in the US are 72% of the population, according to the 2010 census).

We know that far more than 81 books were published by writers of color in 2011. You don’t really need other datasets to see this rather glaring imbalance.

These days, it is difficult for any writer to get a book published. We’re all clawing. However, if you are a writer of color, not only do you face a steeper climb getting your book published, you face an even more arduous journey if you want that book to receive critical attention.

It shouldn’t be this way. Writers deserve that same fighting chance regardless of who they are but here we are, talking about the same old thing—these institutional biases that even by a count of 2011 data, remain deeply ingrained.

I don’t know how to solve this problem or what to do with this information. I’m not riled up. I’m informed. I like seeing some numbers, having some sense of the scope of a problem.

I like knowing where things stand. Will these numbers encourage review outlets to be more inclusive in reviewing books?  And treating diversity Not as a compartmentalized issue, where we can only focus on one kind of inequity at a time.

Such mindfulness is important. If we want to encourage people to be better, broader readers, that effort starts by giving readers a better, broader selection of books to choose from.

Note: Roxane Gay’s writing appears (and forthcoming) in Best American Short Stories 2012, New Stories From the Midwest 2011 and 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, NOON, Salon, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Brevity, and many others.

She is the co-editor of PANK, and an HTMLGIANT contributor. She is also the author of Ayiti. You can find her online at

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June 2012

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