Transnational Perspectives and Knowledge Exchange
On 24 November 2022, the PIs of Subproject A02 “Literature and the Market” hosted the Australian members of the DAAD-funded collaborative project “Gender Imbalance in the Book Industry” in Münster, for a hybrid exchange event (poster). This collaborative research project seeks to trace the relationship of gender to the practices of curation and consecration, described respectively as “disembodied gatekeeping” and “embodied participation,” and involves researchers from the disciplines of book history, publishing studies, and literary studies, with a special focus on the Australian and German book markets. At the hybrid workshop, the team members from Münster and Australia were joined by Christina Neuwirth, whose doctoral project examines gender equality in contemporary Scottish publishing.
Ten Years of the Stella Count: Some Reflections and New Findings (Melinda Harvey)
The event commenced with a paper by Dr. Melinda Harvey, who offered an overview of the impact and responses to the Stella Count, an annual quantitative study of gender bias in Australian book reviewing established in 2012 (https://stella.org.au/initiatives/research/). While the Count revealed that gender parity in reviewing had been achieved in Australia in 2019, the data collected over ten years of research also provides a more nuanced view of the landscape of reviewing in Australia, highlighting reviewing tendencies in terms of nationality, genre, and publisher in addition to gender. For example, the data shows that the tendency towards ‘gender silos’ – with male reviewers mostly reviewing male authors and female reviewers mostly reviewing female authors – is still an issue in most Australian reviewing venues. The most recent data sets also highlight growing representation of non-binary authors and reviewers. Visibility could perhaps be considered one of the main achievements of the Count – over ten years, the collection and publication of this data has served to highlight the biases implicit in reviewing culture, and has demonstrated that the act of counting itself may serve as impetus for change.
Gender Equality in Contemporary Scottish Writing and Publishing (Christina Neuwirth)
Christina Neuwirth’s paper presented quantitative data collected over the course of their research into Scotland’s literary output in reference to gender distribution in publishing, reviewing, festivals and prizes. Neuwirth pointed out that recent research into systemic inequalities in the UK publishing industry often tends to overlook the Scottish literary sector. Their doctoral thesis sought to fill this gap by examining gender inequality in the Scottish publishing industry. The data showed that women and non-binary people continue to be underrepresented in the Scottish literary field, making up less than 40% of the authors published, reviewed, platformed at festivals or awarded with prizes.
Plans for a German diversity survey: challenges and perspectives (Corinna Norrick-Rühl)
Drawing from the various research initiatives in the Anglophone book industries that seek to address diversity and inclusion, Prof. Norrick-Rühl highlighted the need for similar research in the German context and outlined preliminary plans for an interdisciplinary working group that would collect qualitative and quantitative data from authors, publishing, and bookselling organizations in Germany. To date, there has been no exhaustive study of diversity in the German book trade, although discussions around gender imbalance and, more recently, race and ethnicity are increasingly being initiated in various forums. While the timing seems appropriate for a survey on diversity, along the lines of the Diversity Baseline Survey conducted by Lee and Low in the US (https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/01/28/2019diversitybaselinesurvey/), Prof. Norrick-Rühl also acknowledged the challenge of adapting the research process to the German context, where there is still some reticence among certain sections of the book trade when it comes to discussing topics such as race and gender. In addition to the survey, the plan also includes qualitative data collection, and the possibility of liaising with other stakeholders such as the Börsenverein des deutschen Buchhandels.
Australian Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Gender, Prizing and Reviewing (Michelle Smith)
Returning to the Australian market, Dr. Michelle Smith’s paper focused on children’s and young adult literature. Dr Smith noted two defining aspects of this sector: firstly, the markedly feminised gender composition of authors, reviewers, prize-awarders, and other actors involved in the book trade. Secondly, it is a category of literature written by one group (adults) for another (children), a fact that the industry has sought to counterbalance by involving children and teenagers in the processes of reviewing and judging. The analysis of professional and young reviewers, as well as prizes such as the Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Young Adult Fiction and the Inky Awards (judged by teens), clearly demonstrated the imbalance in gender representation in this sector of the book industry. The authors reviewed, as well as a large percentage of the reviewers, tended to be women. This was also reflected in the prize lists, which were dominated by female authors. Dr. Smith also explored the role of other gatekeeping actors such as teachers and librarians in terms of the reviewing cultures surrounding publications aimed at them.
Prizing Non-Citizenship Literature: Behrouz Boochani’s “No Friend But The Mountains” and the Economy of Literary Nationalism (Caroline Koegler)
The final paper was presented by Dr. Koegler, who critically examined the economy of literary nationalism through the publication and reception of the memoir No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani. Written in 2017 while Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian asylum seeker, was held in an Australian detention centre on Manus Island, the memoir was published in English translation (by Omid Tofighian) in 2018 to immediate global acclaim, not only generating scholarly and public debate, but also winning prizes including the Victorian Prize for Literature, normally awarded only to Australian nationals.
Dr. Koegler focused on this prize win and drew attention to the linkages between literary nationalism, valuations of prizeworthiness in the context of national literature, and the attention economy, noting how the prize’s renegotiation of the idea of national literature catalysed the author’s journey from detention centre to international acclaim and granted a form of ‘cultural citizenship’. She also explored the role of gender in this phenomenon, noting that although the book has drawn attention to the detainment and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the focus has been on male experiences and spaces, with a strong focus on masculinity in the text itself, possibly creating an imbalance in the representation of the gendered experience of detention and abuse.
The five scholars, with their varied topics of research and disciplinary perspectives, demonstrated the value of deeply interrogating the curatorial and consecratory practices that shape book markets and that the issue of gender bias and imbalance in the industry demands a closer and more nuanced exploration. The exchange event allowed for discussions around the differences and parallels between three different regions – Scotland, Australia, and Germany – as well as the sharing of reflections on methodology, disciplinary approaches, challenges, and potential for further research.
Fotocredit: Excerpt of the workshop poster © WWU / Book Studies