Why this Conference? Why Now? ~ Sandy Longhorn, Conference Director
Perhaps, like myself, you learned of past women writers forced to publish their work anonymously, under male pen names, or by initials only. Perhaps, like myself, you see these women in black and white. By this I mean, I see these as women writers pre-1960s, pre-Women’s Rights Movement, pre-bra-burnings, etc. I know that as a young writer in the 1990s, I certainly felt no need to disguise my gender in an attempt to get published; after all, the world was changing -- equality was on the horizon. So, why have I, now, accepted the role to direct a women writers conference? Why do we need such a thing, especially in an age when technology has opened so many doors for all writers?
Let me tell you a story about a woman writing today, live and in color, a woman who, while waiting weeks and months to hear back from agents about representation for her novel, had been reading the results of studies that exposed gender bias in job applications and job promotion rates. This woman, Catherine Nichols, decided to run a study of her own in 2015 in which she created a male pseudonym and a false email account. In her essay “Homme de Plume” published on the blog Jezebel, Nichols describes sending the exact same query email and sample chapters under her own name and under her male pseudonym. Not surprisingly, the queries sent under a male name received markedly more attention. Nichols writes:
"Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25."
When I read Nichols’ essay, it drove home the facts I’d come to know as a woman poet, the facts I’d been reading about, especially from VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, an organization that provides an annual count of publication, and books reviewed, by gender in leading general interest magazines and literary journals in America. For most of those national publications, VIDA numbers are as disproportionate as Nichols’ personal account, and while I don’t have numbers for areas like journalism, the hard and soft sciences, and other publication avenues, I would be hard pressed to believe they would show gender parity.
These facts could discourage a woman to the point of quitting what for most is not a job, not a hobby, not a pastime, but a calling. In fact, we probably all know a woman or two who has given up, and sadly, those lost voices are numbers it would be very difficult to quantify.
These numbers are the reason I’m asking you to join me in helping create The C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference. I’m asking you to be a part of positive change in all areas of writing and publishing for women. If you would like to join us in our endeavor, at this time we are most in need of founding donors. Even a small donation will make a difference.
It might seem very early days, but this is your chance to help us build a stable foundation for an annual conference that will draw much-needed attention to the great work being done by women writers today, a conference that will provide women writers of all genres and all levels of experience with the opportunity to learn, mentor, and be heard. Donate now to receive special perks at the conference and be recognized online and in our print materials as a Founding Member.
We are so excited to begin this journey with our writing community, and we look forward to getting to work.