The folks at Minneapolis' Graywolf Press are finding themselves in a strange position these days--defending their commitment to diversity. Publisher Fiona McCrae recently announced the 2015 lineup for fiction--a strong list by any measure, including two books by perennial favorite Per Petterson, a new book by IMPAC Dublin award-winner Kevin Barry, and a title by Jeffery Renard Allen (whose previous book for Graywolf, "Song of the Shank," was highly praised). Half of the books are in translation -- from Serbian, from Russian, from Norwegian, from Spanish.
But there are no women. No women on the fiction list. Graywolf has four women on its 2015 poetry list, and four of the seven titles on the 2015 nonfiction list are by women. But readers on Facebook responded to the fiction list with surprise and anger.
"Whoa. So many dudes. Disappointing," wrote one person.
"I can't believe you even had the balls to publish the photo of these writers," said someone else. "And you're not doing them any favors, making us notice them for their gender and not their work. Time to start boycotting Graywolf Press. What a pity."
Many posters seemed to want very much to give Graywolf the benefit of the doubt, but they were having trouble. "This REALLY bums me out, especially as a huge fan of Graywolf, my hometown press!" wrote another. "ALL men? Really? Absolutely not acceptable in 2014 or ever. This picture makes me want to cry."
All of which seems almost ironic, as Graywolf has steadily built a reputation for publishing cutting-edge, serious work by men, women, people of color, and writers in translation. Its top four titles for 2014 were all written by women--the spectacular best-selling essay collection "The Empathy Exams," by Leslie Jamison; "On Immunity," by Eula Biss, a past winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Award (who will have another nonfiction book published by Graywolf in 2015), and collections of poetry by Claudia Rankine (also a best-seller) and Fanny Howe, which were both finalists for this year's National Book Award.
McCrae said in an interview today that the men on the fiction list are, mostly, not the mainstream: two African-American writers, a gay writer, several writers in translation. "I was very conscious of how international the list was," she said. "Under two percent of literary titles published in America are in translation. There are all kinds of balances."
Looking at the books seasonally rather than genre by genre shows much better gender balance, she noted. "When we are going through the exercise of balancing the list, we’re looking at the spring list or the fall list," not just the fiction list or the poetry list. "We don’t come out with all-male or all-female lists.
"We’re always balancing, and we’ve got grant considerations, translation grants, other grants. Books don’t show up in Noah’s Ark formation." Still, she said, it won't happen again.
McCrae also responded in a Facebook post yesterday. She wrote:
Graywolf Press is committed to publishing a wide spectrum of work by a diverse group of writers. In putting together our seasonal lists we are balancing many factors, and think about diversity in terms of gender, sexual orientation, geography, cultural background, and race. We also try to make room for new writers alongside ones who are further along in their careers. Our forthcoming fiction lists have failed to balance male with female writers, and our editors will be working hard to correct this imbalance for 2016 and beyond.