Joyce Carol Oates is a fixture in American letters — she’s won the National Book Award, two O. Henry Awards, the National Humanities Medal, the Jerusalem Prize, and she’s been nominated for the Pulitzer five times. She taught at Princeton for 36 years, and is, of course, an outspoken Trump critic. A Google search for “Joyce Carol Oates” and “feminist” yields more than half a million results.
And even she thinks the publishing industry has become intolerably politically correct. On Twitter, she recently observed, the “category of straight white males is the only category remaining for villains & awful people in fiction & film & popular culture.” Oates isn’t alone in observing the problem — in June, ubiquitous author James Patterson, whose potboilers have sold more than 400 million copies, said white male writers now face “another form of racism” in the woke publishing industry, before he was bullied into backtracking on his comments.
Of course, if you’ve set foot in a large bookstore recently, what Patterson is saying has obvious merit. On a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, a friend actually took photos and counted up the books on the six new fiction shelves displayed up front. Male authors made up less than 25 percent of the nearly 200 books displayed in the front of the store, and obviously, the percentage of men who were white and/or heterosexual was notably smaller than that.
Oates and Patterson are only now saying what many men with literary ambitions have long known. Iowa Writers Workshop graduate Alex Perez recently gave a scorched-earth interview to the Hobart Literary Journal where he discussed how male-centric literature was being deliberately shut out of publishing. During the interview, he had some choice words for the woke and disproportionately female gatekeepers of the industry:
These women, perhaps the least diverse collection of people on the planet, decide who is worthy or unworthy of literary representation. Their worldview trickles down to the small journals, too, which are mostly run by woke young women or bored middle-aged housewives. This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of fifteen. The progressive/woke orthodoxy is the ideology that controls the entire publishing apparatus.
Almost to prove his point, most of the editors of the Hobart Literary Journal resigned in protest over the decision to publish Perez’s interview. As for Perez, he’s mostly given up on his literary ambitions to write cultural and political commentary for publications that don’t neatly hew to center-left orthodoxies, such as Tablet.
The people running publishing have fully confused their profession with their secular religion. Perez isn’t just right that “everything reads and sounds the same,” but the greater crime is that when literature is culturally and politically homogenized, greatness becomes an outlier. The next Cormac McCarthy could be languishing because they were too busy greenlighting “Anti-Racist Baby.”
If men, along with other important and politically marginalized voices, want to tell stories –there’s going to have to be a revolution in publishing.