Ladies Represent: K.M.A Sullivan.
A fair while ago now, Robin and I talked about the VIDA Count. I guess pretty much everyone did. We wanted to ask a bunch of great writers who also happen to be ladies about their publishing experience and basically just open up a space to talk about gender and publishing, or call bullshit on it, or spout conspiracy theories.
This will be ongoing. This has to be ongoing.
Next up is the mighty, indomitable K.M.A Sullivan.
Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Pearl, Potomac Review, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, Forklift, diode, and elsewhere. She has been awarded residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in creative non-fiction and from Vermont Studio Center in poetry. She is the editor of Vinyl Poetry and the owner/publisher of YesYes Books.
I’ve been in and into poetry a fairly short time. But for a handful of poems I wrote in my freshman calculus class… thirty years ago… I didn’t write poetry until the second semester of my MFA program at Virginia Tech. That was four years ago. I had just begun to emerge from the dustbin (on the tail end of raising five children) and was ready to run. I’ve been running ever since and in the last three years have gathered publications I’m proud of, a couple of poetry prizes, two writing fellowships, an online lit mag, and a poetry-focused publishing company. So, has gender-bias in publishing slowed me down? I don’t know. Right now, I am my own biggest impediment. I am spending so much time on the publishing end that it leaves very little time for my own work. That needs to change. I am the one and only arbiter and executor of that change.
But here are some other things I think on this issue.
I think about the rejection I received from an online mag I admire: “we very much enjoyed your way with evocative language. Unfortunately, the often domestic environment of the poems didn’t grab us quite so much…” My response – the one in my head anyway: fuck you. I submitted three more times over the next 10 months at which point they took three of my poems.
I also think about how easy it has been to get stunning female voices for Vinyl Poetry. We’ve published work from folks like Metta Sama, Andrea Cohen, Julianna Baggott, Keetje Kuipers, Angela Veronica Wong, Jonterri Gadson, Wendy Xu, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Lillian Yvonne Bertram, Jehanne Dubrow… (okay I have to force myself to stop this list). Seriously. Holy crap good. Phillip B. Williams (Vinyl‘s poetry editor) and I go after the writers whose work excites us. Period. It turns out (according to a count I did inspired by VIDA’s efforts) that what excites us is written by women more than 50% of the time. This work has come to us through both solicitation and open submissions.
The story at YesYes Books has been both similar and different. We have published nine books in the last year, four of them by women. But all three of the full-length collections have been by men. Is that a problem? Honestly, I don’t know. I publish what I love and, frankly, I don’t give a shit who doesn’t like it. On the other hand, my editors and I have been actively seeking full-length manuscripts from women. There are, as evidenced by who we publish in Vinyl, so many female poets whose work I LOVE. It turns out that many of the female writers we have solicited are, by their own account, not ready to send a full-length manuscript. Alright. I’ll wait. And I’ll keep looking. Bottom line though, whatever YesYes publishes it will have to make me sweat in one way or another. And I don’t really care who the writer is.
Doing the count for Vinyl raised some questions in my mind. What about the poets who write under alternate-gender pseudonyms? Where should they be placed in the count? What about artists under the trans umbrella who do not gender identify? Vinyl has writers from both groups in our archives. In particular, I am concerned about our comrades in the trans community. The question of tracking publication according to gender risks yet another form of exile for them.
And if we are going to call this question then I think it needs to be opened up all the way. Because the issue of gender bias in publishing also makes me think of the gifted artists I know who happen to be straight white men. Reality for them is that unless they win a major book prize it is unlikely they will get hired for a university-level tenure track position. Is that unfair? Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question either. That’s the beginning of a whole different discussion I suppose.
Here’s what I do know. As writers we need to write from the storm that is in us and then we need to have faith enough in our work to push it out to an audience. Fuck rejections. As members of the arts community we need to encourage those around us to believe in themselves. As editors we need to read as broadly as possible and search for brilliance wherever it can be found – which is everywhere.
Have some thoughts? Comment and let us know.
Also check out what these ladies had to say: