Apparently Oprah’s Book Club hasn’t selected a book by a female author since 2004, and none by a living woman since 2002. With all of the great books out there by female authors (Green Apple begins a list here), what could be the reason for this pattern? I hesitate to call Oprah a “misogynist.” Have women writers simply been overlooked?
Personally, I’m tired of being overlooked. Of all the times when these omissions occur, and because we can find no overtly malicious intent, we steer away from conversations including words like “sexism” and say “oh, they just didn’t think about it…” Why is it so easy to forget? To envision a world in which certain types of people simply don’t exist?
Maybe I’m focusing on all the wrong things. I can complain until my last breath about arenas like the publishing industry and best-of lists, dominated for centuries by people who often have a particular ideal for literature in mind. But when I interviewed poet Camille Dungy, for example, she couldn’t have cared less about what happens to her poems in publishing, as long as she is free to write. When I think about it I can definitely say the same for myself, so why am I so worried about what someone like Oprah has to say?
Well, I guess in Oprah’s case, I am disappointed partly because of her position as such a powerful woman. My secret hope, I didn’t realize until now, is that she would be the exception to the rule, someone in the position to do what others haven’t, to recognize the history of silencing folks like women writers and to help reconcile that by recognizing them now. Oprah’s Book Club is popular and mainstream and it’s helping keep the love of literature alive, so I hope it doesn’t simply enliven history’s emphasis on some voices over others.
Then again, maybe I should stop focusing so much on mainstream circles’ treatment of literature and just focus on writing, writing for me and for the folks who matter to me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the recent happenings of the San Francisco lit scene, it’s that you don’t have to wait for some main stage to offer you a spotlight to share your work. You make your own way to the stage, or you create your own stage, or you challenge what we all know of what a stage is and who can stand on it. And, someday, you will be heard.
Do you hear us, Oprah? Maybe someday you will. Then again, maybe you’re not the one who’s meant to hear.