At Least the National Book Award Panel Doesn’t Think Women Are Useless

It’s been a bad week for women (want to pay for your own birth control, anyone?). Shit, a bad year. Surely you must know why. But one thing women can take comfort in this week is that the National Book Award panel of judges has seen fit to recognize female writers very noticeably on their list of finalists this year.

Though we’ve always known the literary world–or rather the largely male writers that still dominate it–has thrived on women as muses (often too much so, F. Scott), it’s still rare to see awards brokered by the highly snooty (yet still lacking in decent offerings) elite of book tastemaking acknowledging excellence in writing by women.

But across the board in every category–fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young adult literature–the presence of the female is unignorable. Most triumphantly is Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties: Stories, a collection that features among other tales of defiance (a woman who won’t remove a green ribbon from her neck as requested by her husband), a much needed dose of queerness that we’ve only really seen in male form in the mainstream in the pages of Dennis Cooper or Bret Easton Ellis.

Elsewhere, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko goes the more epic route with a narrative centered around the saga of a Korean family told over four generations. The Leavers by Lisa Ko persists in highlighting not only works written by women, but stories that broaden the cultural horizons of the average reader these days (read: a white male in grad school). Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing rounds out the fiction finalists with another plot rich in familial history.

With women dominating the other three categories as well (poetry’s the only genre still semi-fighting off the phenomenon), there’s a strong chance it’s going to be another historic year for the progress being made in female representation in literature. And since a certain orange person doesn’t read, there’s nothing he can do to affect our current influence in a field that has long over-coddled the likes of white men for doing what women perfected from the instant they were “allowed” to sit at a typewriter for non-secretary related reasons: expressing rage, dissatisfaction and the general sentiment of being rent in two by personal desire and societal expectation.

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