Fiction Introduction

Sybil Baker

Ever since VIDA published “The Count” of women in the literary arts in 2010, I’ve followed the posts and comments on their website and elsewhere with more than idle curiosity. After all, I’m a female writer with some publishing success (but it could be more, it can always be more!), and the statistics of the percentage of female authors published and reviewed in the top literary journals are stark and discouraging.

As the end of 2012 nears, the numbers haven’t changed that dramatically. Yet, I’m heartened that at least there is a public conversation about “why” and “what to do.” Is the “why” really as simple as that men submit more than women? Or is there an inherent bias toward a certain type of fiction that tends to be written by men? What type of fiction is that? Or could it be that men simply write better? But who gets to define “better,” only the guys already benefiting from the current literary hierarchy? As for “what to do,” is it really fair to blame women for not submitting enough, when editors and publishers are not re-examining their acceptance policies?

When I became Fiction Editor of Drunken Boat a year ago, I had a chance to look at the equation from the other side. Who is submitting to us? What are we choosing for publication and why? For this first year I didn’t explicitly think about gender when I read and accepted pieces. I tried to choose pieces that spoke to me for a variety of reasons and were a good fit with Drunken Boat’s aesthetic. Only this fall, as I looked over the stories accepted for this Fiction Folio, did I begin to wonder (and panic) about our gender parity. What if I was one of those editors who’d selected a majority of stories by male writers? And if that were the case, what did it mean?

I asked Paige Broussard, a Graduate Assistant at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, to compile the submission statistics for the past year, divided by gender. The statistics for fiction submissions to Drunken Boat from October 2011 to October 2012 were surprising, even to me.

Male: 40
Female: 49

Male: 662
Female: 432
Unknown: 6

So what does this say about Drunken Boat and its contribution to the VIDA conversation? Our statistics align with the argument that more males than females submit, but they also confirm that submission and acceptance ratios do not have to be equal. Did more males submit before their work was ready, leading to a higher quantity but lower quality of submissions? Or does the Drunken Boat fiction staff “prefer” stories written by women? Does the sizeable minority of our submitters from outside the US affect the gender ratio of submitters one way or another? These are questions I’ll keep pondering in 2013 as we read and select pieces for future issues.

Our Fiction Folio for Drunken Boat 16 is composed of fifteen stories, eight written by women, seven by men, reflecting optimal gender parity. But the gender of the writer is only one lens through which to view the literary world. The stories in this folio examine borders of race, class, gender, nationality, war, imprisonment, poverty, sexuality, and narrative form, and as well as the transgression of them. The characters are Native Americans, Russian escapees, immigrants, Pakistanis. They are single parents, broken, whose children are troubled, or born with missing limbs, or who have died in one of the wars America doesn’t want to talk about.

Yet despite the bleak nature of these themes, there’s joy in these stories through the beauty of the language and a playful approach to content and form. They inhabit the boundaries of our world, yet acknowledge these boundaries are neither stable nor fixed. Each story is an act of discovery; you arrive at the end of each piece in a place you did not expect: breathless, excited, eager for more.

Sybil Baker
Sybil Baker

Sybil Baker’s latest novel Into This World was recently published by Engine Books. She is also the author of The Life Plan, a comic novel, and a linked short story collection, Talismans. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous publications including The Writer’s Chronicle, Prairie Schooner, Glimmer Train, and The Nervous Breakdown. She spent twelve years teaching in South Korea before returning to the States in 2007. She is an Assistant Professor of English (Creative Writing) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she serves as the Assistant Director of the Meacham Writers’ Workshop. A recent recipient of a MakeWork grant for Chattanooga, she teaches in the first international MFA program at City University of Hong Kong and at the Yale Writers’ Conference. She is Fiction Editor at Drunken Boat.