Results tagged “Washington Post” from critical difference

Suffering as I do from the procrastination pathology that afflicts so many journalists, it's only now, with three days left to vote, that I'm taking a close look at the candidates for the National Book Critics Circle board of directors. What I see is dismaying, all the more so for being unsurprising.

Of 21 candidates for eight spots, only six are women.

(Sigh.)

(Sigh sigh sigh sigh sigh.)

Maybe I'm overreacting; it's entirely possible. The NBCC's current 22-person board is 50 percent female, and the organization's president is Jane Ciabattari. That doesn't exactly suggest a male stronghold. And women as a group are hardly known for shying from volunteer labor.

Yet two things immediately come to mind. The first is the National Arts Journalism Program's board election a few years ago, when male alumni of the prestigious program threw their hats into the ring with wild abandon. The women, meanwhile, hung back -- not because they didn't care about the NAJP, or because they were too busy, but because they were unsure of their own abilities in comparison with the men's. A prominent former NAJP fellow, who has since been shortlisted for one of journalism's highest honors, told me she didn't think she could hold her own with a couple of the boldface names among the male candidates (only one of whom made it onto the board anyway). She wasn't alone in her thinking.

The second thing I'm reminded of is novelist Julianna Baggott's recent lament and call to arms in The Washington Post. As exemplified by Publishers Weekly's all-male 2009 top-10 list, Baggott argued, the presumed momentousness of male authors' books eludes their female counterparts:

I could understand Publishers Weekly's phallocratic list if women were writing only a third of the books published or if women didn't float the industry as book buyers or if the list were an anomaly. In fact, Publishers Weekly is in sync with Pulitzer Prize statistics. In the past 30 years, only 11 prizes have gone to women. Amazon recently announced its 100 best books of 2009 -- in the top 10, there are two women. Top 20? Four. Poets & Writers shared a list of 50 of the most inspiring writers in the world this month; women made up only 36 percent.

Just as with authors and readers, it's not as if there's a shortage of female book critics. The NBCC board's current gender split looks about right -- though that didn't quite translate to female authors raking in the National Book Critics Circle Awards last year. (Women won in zero categories.)

Maybe, in practical terms, shifting the board's balance in either direction would be irrelevant. But I can't help believing that having a seat at the table -- having, in fact, enough seats to make a difference -- matters. Boards like the NBCC's have influence, and the literary world is a place where female writers and readers still encounter obstacles to being taken seriously. The battle is lost if female critics don't take their own abilities seriously enough to put themselves forward.
January 5, 2010 12:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Let's just admit straight out that the Nobel people relish a surprise far more than the average world-renowned prize-granting organization does -- and far more, too, than do many of the interested parties they startle with their choices.

This year, as ever, the primary reaction to the naming of new laureates has been grumbling and snark. On NPR, 1986 laureate Elie Wiesel's initial response to President Obama's peace prize was graceless ("It's certainly strange for me to think of him now as my fellow Nobel laureate"), while in The Washington Post a "prominent editor and writer in New York" suggested that Herta Müller's win over authors like Philip Roth, Haruki Murakami and Salman Rushdie tarnishes the literature honor. "If the Nobel prize committee awarded the medicine prize like this, we'd still have polio," he grumped.

But Müller's victory is part of a happy trend this year: As AFP reports, this is the best year ever for female laureates. Of the 39 women who've won in the 109-year history of the prize, four won this week, three of them in science (take that, Larry Summers!). That's just north of 10 percent of all female recipients, and exactly 10 percent of the 40 Nobels ever bestowed on women, two of which went to Marie Curie (um, Larry?). Women make up 36 percent of this year's laureates, and prizes in three of the five categories go entirely or in part to women.

The stats on that matter -- not out of so-called political correctness but because of the widespread tendency to downgrade or dismiss women's work, whatever it happens to be, rather than take it as seriously as men's work is automatically taken. The brilliant Nancy Franklin expressed one tiny facet of that disparity this way recently in The New Yorker:

Chick lit [...] gets a lot less respect than the male equivalent, which people tend to approach as if it were automatically more artful, more written. Women write "thinly veiled accounts"; men write "romans à clef." Women writers may have a room of their own, but men who thrash around in front of the mirror and record their every failure, humiliation, moue, and excretion for an audience's consumption still own the house, even if all they do in it is lie on the couch--and then write about it.

It's not an even playing field, not in literature or elsewhere, so it's significant when women win. It's progress. Every victory is a reminder not only of what an individual woman has achieved, but of what other women can aspire to achieve. Being recognized on the world stage is no small thing; just ask Elie Wiesel and that bitter, nameless writer-editor. So if this is what a Nobel laureate looks like, good.

Update, Oct. 12: The numbers for women got even better today with a Nobel in economics for Elinor Ostrom, the first woman ever to win the economics prize. She shares the category with Oliver E. Williamson. So that's five women this year (12.5 percent of all female laureates, 38.5 percent of this year's winners), in four of six categories. Not bad. Not bad at all.
October 9, 2009 3:04 PM | | Comments (0)
On tour in China with the National Symphony Orchestra, The Washington Post's Anne Midgette examines the similarities between going to the concert hall in the U.S. and in Macau, where she finds "the same ushers pouncing like hawks on young people trying to text on their mobile phones during the show. (Both ushers and young people here showed a striking degree of determination.)"

Discouraging about the young folk, of course, but American ushers -- and their bosses -- could take a tip from their Chinese counterparts. Here, vigilance isn't necessarily the rule.
June 10, 2009 11:39 AM | | Comments (0)
But it's awfully topical, given our current obsession with empathy (a subject that, funnily enough, never seized the nation's imagination during the Bush years). It's a quote from Concord Free Press editor-in-chief Stona Fitch, talking to The Washington Post's Ron Charles:

"If you can have empathy for a person made out of words, you can muster up empathy for your three-dimensional community."

As it happens, Fitch is speaking about the philosophy behind the nonprofit Concord Free Press' practice of giving its books away and requesting that readers, in effect, pay it forward. The notion is explained this way on the publisher's website: "All we ask of readers is that they make a voluntary donation to a charity or someone in need. And pass their book along so others can give. It's a new kind of publishing based on generosity."

But even out of context, Fitch's words about empathy are words to live by. There's a particular challenge in them, too, for bookish types who find it easy to feel for people on the page, whether they're fictional or real, yet have trouble translating that warmth into positive interactions with flesh-and-blood human beings. All of us have days like that; some of us lead lives like that, disappearing too entirely down the escape hatch that books open to us.
May 27, 2009 2:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the director and choreographer of the Kennedy Center's hit revival of "Ragtime," is the hook for Peter Marks' feature in today's Washington Post, but the story's true subject is the paucity of female directors in big-budget musical theater. Dodge -- who, at 54, had been flying beneath the radar for decades before her D.C. breakthrough this spring -- is an excellent case in point. As Marks notes, "She happens to be the first woman to direct a major musical produced by the Kennedy Center." (It opened for business in 1971.)

Marks continues:

It might be surprising that in 2009, women are still having to grope their way to the power seat in an artistic field such as theater. And the helm of a musical, with its complex and expensive working parts, is perhaps the most difficult and challenging position the theater has to offer. Yet for all the successes of a Julie Taymor ("The Lion King") or a Susan Stroman ("The Producers"), women even today only occasionally receive the assignment to direct a big-budget, big-showcase musical.

The irony is stark: In the rest of the culture, almost nothing is perceived as being girlier than musicals. But, again, that women seldom get the high-profile musical directing jobs is only surprising to those who haven't been paying attention. It was just 1998 when Julie Taymor became the first woman to win a best-director Tony Award for a musical ("The Lion King") -- minutes after Garry Hynes became the first woman to win a best-director Tony of any kind, triumphing in the play category, for "The Beauty Queen of Leenane." As The New York Times put it in its next-day coverage, "It took more than half a century for the Tonys to present its first directing award to a woman. It took five minutes to present the second one." (Bizarrely, this news was mentioned in the tenth paragraph.)

The floodgates have not exactly burst open since then. Producer Rocco Landesman, President Obama's surprising nominee to head the National Endowment for the Arts, explained in the Times in 2005, "On Broadway, progress is slow." He added:

But change is coming, however slowly. We'll get used to their styles (Watching Susan Stroman direct ''The Producers'' was a revelation; talk about velvet glove, iron fist!) and certainly, their successes. Nothing changes perceptions like a hit. The women directors I know have proved that they can get everything they want while still being decent to people. The famously bullying Jerome Robbins is just not the role model for them and the Broadway theater is better for it.

Change will come faster if more women are allowed into the directing pipeline, making their presence at the helm of a production less of an aberration, thus nudging producers and artists to envision them there when the list of collaborators is being drawn up. The more work they do, the more work they'll get. And with any luck, the most talented among them won't have to spend decades, like Dodge, building their résumés in relative obscurity.
May 13, 2009 11:18 AM | | Comments (2)
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