Writing in The Guardian newspaper last Saturday, Kamila Shamsie (author of five novels and a work of non-fiction) challenged the literary world of readers, critics and publishers to acknowledge the under-representation of women in the upper echelons of popular literature.
With women comprising 40% of Man Booker prize winners, Shamsie wrote of the endemic male bias in large publishing houses and lay down what she termed her “provocation”. “Why not have a Year of Publishing Women: 2018, the centenary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote in the UK, seems appropriate”, wrote Shamsie.
Though Shamsie has since stated that she “didn’t intend anyone to take a Year of Publishing Women seriously“, publishing house And Other Stories has responded positively to the call and intends to publish only women writers in 2018.
Although only a small house releasing 10 to 12 books a year, Stefan Tobler, speaking on behalf of And Other Stories said “I think we can do it. And if we don’t do it, what is going to change?”
“Rescheduling male writers’ books for other years [and] digging harder and further than usual” to find women writers were part of the house’s plans in enacting Shamsie’s Year of Publishing Women, said Sophie Lewis, a senior editor at And Other Stories.
According to Lewis, “by taking on the challenge we will expose our systems and the paths of recommendation and investigation that brings books to us, and we will end up becoming a kind of small-scale model for a much bigger inquiry about why women’s writing is consistently sidelined or secondary, the poor cousin rather than the equal of men’s writing.”
Although a similar response has not been found in larger publishing houses, Shamsie has said that feedback to her essay has been “largely positive”. ““By positive, I don’t only mean those who agree that a year of publishing women is a good idea but also those who say you’re right to point out there’s a problem but there are other ways to address it…we need as many suggestions as possible to counter the depth and breadth of the problem.”