A Beginner’s Guide to VIDA

As 2014 swings to a close, we begin to look back at the year’s literary endeavors. Pushcart nominations go out. Editors begin to contemplate “Best Of” anthologies and other honors. As writers, we meditate on our successes and–hopefully not too much–our failures. But one thing I’ve recently begun to anticipate for the new year is the annual VIDA count.

Not familiar with VIDA? Never fear. In anticipation of the 2014 count, here’s a basic guide to the organization, its mission, and last year’s count.

What is VIDA?

Founded by Cate Marvin and Erin Belieu in 2009, VIDA is dedicated to increasing critical attention to women’s writing and highlighting gender disparities in contemporary literature and publishing. Or, more simply, VIDA examines gender ratios in nationally acclaimed literary magazines and book reviews. Have you ever picked up your favorite literary magazine to find that its table of contents includes one woman and seven men? Do you sometimes open your new issue of Your Town Book Review and struggle to find recommendations for books by women? You’re not imagining things–these are the trends examined by the VIDA count.

Every year, VIDA tallies representation in 39 book reviews and literary magazines (what they call “Tier 1” publications). You can read more about their methodology here. The count’s final presentation is beautifully straightforward. How many women did Tin House publish last year? (59) How many books by women vs. men did the London Review of Books review? (72 vs. 245) And it’s accessible to everyone. Editors can see how they stack up vs. their peers. Writers can make informed decisions about their submissions. Readers can choose to patronize more balanced publications.

Of course, VIDA is much more than reports and pie charts. It’s also a discussion hub, which allows writers, editors, readers, and academics to have thoughtful conversations about gender and literature. Plus, VIDA is a fantastic resource for women writers. Their twitter feed and Facebook page are excellent places to find calls for submissions and job listings. And VIDA is a volunteer-driven organization, which means women across the country participate in the count every year.

Pro-tip: eat pie while reviewing VIDA's pie charts.

Pro-tip: enjoy some pie while reviewing VIDA’s pie charts.

The 2013 VIDA Count

As we look forward to the 2014 count (results come out in February), we might take a moment to review the trends from 2013.  You can find the full reports on VIDA’s website.

Among gender-balanced (or better) publications, we find: Prairie SchoonerNew American Writing, Ninth Lettern+1, The Missouri Review,  The Gettysburg ReviewCallaloo, Tin House, and The Paris Review.

Then there are those who come fairly close to gender-equal representation (within 10): Granta, PoetryA Public SpaceAgni,  The Cincinnati ReviewConjunctionsFenceHarvard Review, and The Kenyon Review.

Finally, VIDA reports that the following publications show a significant bias towards publishing and reviewing male writers: The AtlanticHarper’sLondon Review of BooksThe NationThe New RepublicThe New York Review of BooksThe New YorkerThe Times Literary SupplementThe Threepenny ReviewBelieverMcSweeney’s, and The Normal School.

Last year, VIDA named The Paris Review their most improved publication. Meanwhile, The New Republic had their worst year of the count. Boston Review and Poetry maintained a consistent parity, while Tin House is a perennial champion of representation. The New York Review of Books has consistency of a different sort: they’ve held at 80% male representation for the last four years.

In 2013, VIDA also conducted its first young adult and children’s literature count, which posed the question: do women really dominate that genre? As with the literary fiction count, the answer is not as simple as you might think.

It’s worth noting, too, that many smaller, independent presses and publications do their own VIDA counts each year, as do genre-oriented magazines. It’s worthwhile to keep an eye out for these individual tallies in February when the official VIDA counts are released.

What are your thoughts on the VIDA Report? TSHS wants to know!

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