A day or so ago I came across a post on Facebook that drew one’s attention to a recent article by Katie Roiphe “Stop Attacking Male Writers for Being Sexist”. Entirely worth reading and certainly for context to my comments, but the article in itself did not hold my attention. No, for me of much greater import were these comments from Jane Smiley the enormously talented, multi-award winning author (a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction amongst them). Jane, in her Facebook comments through the thread to the Roiphe piece struck as something special, as it went right to the heart of what happens in publishing from the perspective of writer, reader and publisher.
These observations made me stop and think and I hope they will you as well.
With her permission I share them here:
“Every reader is entitled to his or her own opinion, because every reader has his or her own experience of the book”.
“Salter was born in 1925, one of the WW2 generation. That generation was very male and very much like a club. Most were in New York or on the east coast. If they were important, it was because they were important to one another, and they wrote about male consciousness with little evident self-awareness. Times changed, and in order to be widely read, novelists had to appeal to women, who are the most populous group of readers. Readers are free to choose, and a lot of modern women readers have not chosen to read Mailer, Roth, Salter”.
“I think writers do write their vision, and I think Salter did write his. He just hit the market at a bad time for finding lots of readers. Even when the publishers pretend to analyze the market, they are wishing and guessing. A lot of every career is simply luck and demographics. I also think the hyper-masculine WW2 generation was a bit of a blip. If you look at Hollywood movies from the 30s, female characters are self-actualizing, sexy, and active. By the fifties, Barbara Stanwyck has turned into Doris Day. Roiphe is entitled to her opinion, but she doesn't seem to think that feminists are entitled to theirs, and she has always seemed to have that view. But political shifts are different from readers' tastes. Reading has to be an internal act, and an act of freedom”.
Jane Smiley is published by Knopf. The second in her The Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga trilogy Early Warning is out now. For anyone not familiar with Jane’s work I attach here a review from the Los Angeles Times that provides a lovely profile of Jane and a review of Early Warning.