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Ladies represent: Amy Letter.

April 13, 2012 \am\30 10:46 am

A fair while ago now, Caroline 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 Amy Letter. Amy is a writer and artist whose work has appeared in journals including PANK, Quarterly West, Fringe, and others, as well as gallery spaces including the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and the 18 Rabbit Gallery. Amy Letter is a professor of Fiction and New Media at Drake University in Des Moines Iowa. More at


I’ve been told many times that I “write about strong women.” While I have the utmost respect for authors whose goal is to “write about strong women” (or any subject that moves them), it is not remotely one of my artistic goals. I write about problems understanding time and reality, the contagion of hatred, conflicting agendas, the concept of escalation — how small things become everything. I write about ideas that interest me. But if my characters are not male, I am told I “write about strong women,” which concerns me because it means some people aren’t seeing what I’m writing about at all. I recognized this issue a long time ago, and wrote a few stories with all-male casts to see if my ideas got through. They did: my first published story was one of these man-fests. But I am stubborn and offended by the idea that men are people and women are something else, so when gender isn’t an issue for a character (and for my work it almost never is), I default to women characters. Screw em.

I’m always submitting work. I get a lot of rejections. When I was earning my MFA, a decade ago, I decorated the wall behind my desk with my rejections, and it almost went floor to ceiling before I’d ever published a single thing. I was, and am, proud of that. One of my friends called it a “monument to effort, if not success.” Effort is important. I don’t always submit at the exact same rates because life things happen: you move, someone dies, you go through a crisis where you hate everything and want to re-write it all. But I consider it an important part of who I am as a writer. If I’m not sending it out, I don’t exist.

I don’t think there’s a mechanical solution to the VIDA numbers. We can’t “all just do one simple thing” and stand back to observe that the problem’s been solved. The solution will come when the problem disappears, when people no longer equate a Y chromosome with credibility and authority or view a vagina as the mark of something less than human. If we were born into a world where the genders of people in political power, economic power, the various fields of science and arts, and so on, roughly matched in their proportions the population of the world, our brains would be completely different — better brains, fitter brains. The brains we have now are crap. They were programmed all wrong. When I was a kid, if you saw a white man among a gaggle of mixed sex/race employees, he WAS the manager! Those kinds of associations are hard to break. So time will tick, people will die, kids will replace us, the world will change, slowly, too damn slowly for me.

Have some thoughts? Comment and let us know. 

Also check out what these ladies had to say:

Roxane Gay

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