The owners of Bluemoose Books hope their pledge will help address gender inequality in the literary industry.
Back in 2015, the award-winning author Kamila Shamsie challenged the UK books industry to make 2018 the “year of publishing women”. Shamsie, whose novel Home Fire won the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction, argued that gender bias in publishing meant that male writers were disproportionately more likely than women to be nominated for literary awards and to have their books reviewed in the press.
In the end, only one publisher picked up the gauntlet that Shamsie threw down: the independent not-for-profit publishing house And Other Stories, which released books by writers including Ann Quin, Alicia Kopf and Rita Indiana in 2018. But now, another publishing house has pledged to follow suit.
Bluemoose Books, an independent press based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, has announced plans to only publish works by female writers in 2020. The small publishing house, which has released award-winning books by writers including Benjamin Myers and Michael Stewart, will bring out novels by female authors Anna Chilvers, Sharon Duggal, Heidi James and Anna Vaught next year.
Kevin Duffy, who co-founded Bluemoose Books with his wife Hetha in 2006, tells Stylist that they wanted to shine a spotlight on the work of women writers who might otherwise be overlooked by the books industry.
“In an ideal world you wouldn’t have to put together a publishing schedule to challenge [the underrepresentation of women writers],” he says. “But you do.”
Older and not-yet-established female authors are particularly sidelined by a publishing industry obsessed with youth and celebrity, Duffy adds.
“Lots of publishers are becoming so risk-averse, they’re just replicating the successes they’ve already had,” he says. “[They’re] not engaging or putting money into newer writers or older writers… [But] people want to read different books about different life experiences from people who have actually lived.”
Some might see the decision to publish only female authors as extreme. But evidence suggests that drastic action is needed to address the gender imbalance in the world of literature and publishing.
Last year, a report by feminist arts organisation Vida found that female writers accounted for less than 40% of content published in more than half of the world’s major literary publications. The research showed that articles reviewing the work of female writers – or articles penned by female authors themselves – made up just 26.9% of pieces published in the London Review of Books in 2017.
The New York Review of Books was even further from gender parity in 2017, with just 23.3% of published articles by or about female writers.
“When primarily white male voices are heard,” wrote Vida board members Sarah Clark and Amy King in the report’s introduction, “it creates a dangerous lens through which the world is viewed.”
Sharmaine Lovegrove is the founder of Dialogue Books – an imprint focusing on works by writers of black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, the LGBTQI community and those with disabilities – and a former Stylist Woman of the Week. She is committed to pushing for diversity of all kinds in publishing.
“I want to inspire writers and let them know that their stories are valid, and that they should be heard,” Lovegrove told Stylist in 2018. “I’m doing it for people who didn’t think they could be part of the conversation.”
While there’s still a long way to go before the books industry is not dominated by white men, there are some encouraging signs that change is afoot. On 16 January, it was announced that this year’s Costa Short Story Award has an all-female shortlist for the first time ever.
Caroline Ward Vine, Sophie Wellstood and Amanda Huggins are all in the running for the prestigious £3,500 first prize, which will be awarded at a ceremony on 29 January.
“Completely blown away that my story somehow made it here,” Wellstood wrote on Twitter, adding that she was “in brilliant company” with Ward Vine and Huggins. “See you at the party!”
Images: Suad Kamardeen, Unsplash / Pixabay/ Sharmaine Lovegrove