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It’s Been An Interesting Month to Talk About Women in Literature

First, there was David Gilmour. You’ve probably already heard the story: Gilmour, a novelist recently nominated for the Giller Prize and teacher at the University of Toronto, made some pretty terrible remarks in a profile that appeared in Hazlitt. A brief snippet:

I’m not interested in teaching books by women…when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women…I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys.

He attempted to clear the air in another interview with The National Post, and came across pretty badly there too (relying on diminutives, calling university students “girls,” frequently commenting on how “young” Emily Keeler, Hazlitt’s interviewer, was, insinuating she was trying to make a name for herself, etc.). In response, Hazlitt posted the full transcript, in which Gilmour comes across as even worse

Gilmour students are, by his admission, speaking up, and asking why women authors aren’t on the syllabus. Rather than engage with his students, he deflects these questions, and suggests they go “down the hall.” UofT students staged a rally to protest Gilmour’s statements.

In the wake of the initial profile, two very wonderful things happened to Canadian female writers. Alice Munro has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Canadian born Eleanor Catton has become the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize for her latest novel, The Luminaries. It’s fantastic news both for these authors, and for promoting the work of women authors in general.

Since its inception in 1909, only 13 women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and since 1969, twice as many men as women have won the Man Booker. Other literary prizes face similar numbers. While women produce as many works as men, women tend to be underrepresented on shortlists, prize lists, and in media. Is it any wonder dudebros like Gilmour have a hard time finding women authors they’re interested in, if they don’t even know they exist?

So let’s read women. Serious – and silly – homosexual women, straight women, great women. Let’s make this a space to talk about the cool women writing smart books and accomplishing amazing things. Famous women, and women you’ve never heard of – yet.

Let’s not read anything by David Gilmour.

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