09/15/2010 02:13 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

An Apology for Women's Literature

Co-written by Cate Marvin and Carol Muske-Dukes (Cate Marvin - Poet and Assoc. Prof., College of Staten Island and Co-Director, VIDA)

The recent attention given to what can only be described as an outburst by two very talented lady writers, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner respectively, with regard to the glowing review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom in the New York Times Book Review (a book we're both sure to add to our Christmas shopping lists) admittedly made us uncomfortable.

Picoult and Weiner claimed, via respective tweets, as you no doubt already know, that the New York Times Book Review predominantly reviews white male writers. Media outrage ensued.

As female writers, we're not really accustomed to receiving this kind of attention. We'd only just recovered from a bout of nerves caused by Anis Shivani's recent "Top 15" list published on The Huffington Post, in which we were, for the first time, prominently represented... and what a relief it was to discover he'd placed us among the "Most Overrated Writers"!

As such, we've been deeply grateful to be provided with the term "chick lit": we can either try to fit our work into this category; or, if we have a particularly masochistic bent, us more literary gals can let chick-lit make us feel like the ugliest girl in the ninth grade. With braces. Why be "literary" when you can wear the textual equivalent of a padded bra? Why be so serious? It's just so... off-putting.

Yes, some of us write books. Well, a lot of us have done so, and for that we're sorry. We're sorry for all that time we spent writing our books (which aren't any good, we admit), when we could have been beautifying gardens, cooking exquisite dinners, and raising our offspring.

Sisters, let's be honest. We write books. But our "books" are not, if you look at all the prizes awarded to our better-halves and the fact that so many more works by men are reviewed in major journals... well, they aren't what the establishment deems noteworthy. Sisters, we're sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but we're also sure you saw it coming. As the somewhat lackluster novelist Flannery O'Connor (who was also a woman!) reminded us, "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." Since when were you encouraged to write your novel? Your book of poems? Your memoir? (Being encouraged by other women writers doesn't count.)

As far as "artistic" pursuits, there is always needlepoint (an exacting task, to be sure) and knitting, and many other crafts that are more appropriate outlets for our energy and time. Many women in the past have found solace in keeping a private journal.

Please know that these are only recommendations. Indeed, we hope that you'll forgive us for imploring you to consider the various limitations of literature (if we can call it that) written by women (if, in fact, you ever considered the topic in the first place).

In fact, we regret having ever made an imposition upon your time by bringing up this topic in the first place. We hope you'll forgive us.


Cate Marvin & Carol Muske-Dukes