Image above by BSKM. Some small and very obvious details have been changed to protect the guilty.
Hello - I've just finished looking through your soon-to-be-published major anthology of diary snippets, journals and letters, Four Seasons in Bangassou. It's a beautiful edition, full of the favourites one would expect, from the renowned diarist Shamuel Shtares to stage wit Nowell Brave and dozens of quirky, brilliant and intelligent authors to discover anew. The volume is great to plunge into, joyful and very illuminating. Its production values mark it out as definitive and every entry gives a double insight: into the great city of Bangassou, which has inspired so many authors these centuries past, and also into each writer, their interests and foibles and the odd details which make them unique. And of course it's such a lovely, elegant work of art in itself, and would be a gorgeous gift.
I know I asked the PRs to send me a copy when I received the launch invite, though how I'd travel to Central African Republic for just one evening drinks do in a reference library, I don't know. And I know I mentioned that if I liked the book I might write about it for the Huffington Post.
Hubert dear I'm afraid there's no polite way to say this, but I can't support this book at all. Out of the two young male editors who compiled the anthology, I don't know Michael Walpole-Stevenson at all but I do know the other one, Siegfried Luttrell-Farington, a little bit. I like him and his work, so I don't want to open a debate on the issue or harm the project, but the fact is that out of the 226 writers they chose, only 44 are women - that's just 19.5%. That is typical of the endemic under-representation of women in cultural life: we are kept at 22% or less. And this, Hubert, in a book spanning the 16th Century to the 21st Century, the entries covering around 500 years and 226 writers, and indeed featuring every type of writer, from politicians to punks to vicars, artists, dilettantes, merchants, travellers, business owners, hustlers and aristos. There has been perfect diversity of time and job, season, action, voice, tone - but for the fact that 80.5% of the contributors are men.
I am a diarist myself, and an image of my archived diaries, from 1993 to now, heads this piece. Any passionate reader who thinks that women are not risible, pathetic bores knows that partly because of the educational, social and cultural exclusion of women, literate women have notoriously kept copious diaries and private papers and that we, furthermore, do like our letters, household notes, list, reminders, biographies, memoirs and odd suicide notes for when patriarchal oppression just gets too much. I don't expect to see such extreme exclusion and discrimination against women being perpetrated by men in 2013 and despite my admiration for many aspects of this fine volume, Hubert, I don't support the careers of perpetrators.
It would be perverse and submissive of me to help men who discriminate against women. My support would be taken, exploited and used to help themselves and they would certainly never reciprocate by supporting my or any other woman writer's career; they have demonstrated by their own clear behaviour that, when given perfect liberty, they keep women at 19%. Meanwhile, women support the entire publishing industry top to bottom and inside to outside. As the last few years' wonderful Costa, Booker and Orange/Women's Prize longlists have show, we are excellent writers. Additionally we read men's writing all the time; we review it, critique it respectfully, edit it, agent it, represent it, cut translation deals for it, nominate it for prizes, pay for it, commission it, invite male authors to speak about it, attend their speaking events and interview them at literary events and on the media. We expect and deserve the same basic respect in return. As I have written so many times before, I have sat through countless interviews in which male authors treat me and my female producers and colleagues like maids or secretaries, brag about themselves and, in a one hour interview, namecheck dozens of other male writers, artists, film-makers and musicians. It is clear, when I question them lightly, that they neither read not respect women as intellectuals and artists, and they make their derision absolutely clear.
I have spent the weekend, Hubert, counting the list of contributors in Four Seasons in Bangassou, and writing this piece. I have covered the issues as it pertains to the arts generally, in literature, at the Criterion Theatre, in radio here and also here and most shockingly in the charity world, notably Amnesty International's tragically woman-discriminating TV project and comedy shows. There's a name for it: cultural femicide. The erasure of women from cultural life.
This sumptuous volume makes clear to any woman diarist, letter writer or memoirist that her work is not worth being anthologised in a handsome, definitive edition now or five centuries from now and that whatever she writes does not merit being remembered, let alone presented in such a respectful way. Let me add Hubert that should I encounter or hear from either of the two chaps who discriminedited the volume, or anyone from your fine company, and they make the usual defensive, aggressive or whingeing comments, or produce some salty sexism to somehow 'back up' their choices, I will make those comments public along with a nice photo of them mid-whinge (there's always a camera in my bag dear Hubert), and their contact details.
Finally, I want to give a fortifying tip to all the discriminators out there. Be proud of yourselves! If you have just hand-selected a 600 page anthology, drawing from all the words of all the Bangassou-dwelling people across all the years from 1500 to 2013, and only 19.5% of your people were women, just 44 out of 226, you should totally own it you guys. I would like to see discriminators being proud of what they perpetrate: they should stand up for it, be forthright, be honest, be as arrogantly misogynist in public as you were in private at your desks, instead of making snivelling, sexist excuses. They should say, "I don't rate women: deal with it." Because then we would know where we all stand. Because the thing is, I do rate women.
Hubert, I'm really sorry to be writing this very embarrassing email and to be making an awkward situation. I know that in any case that the book will be a success. The 182 men you chose were marvellous - and so were the 44 women. But I'll bet you there were hundreds more women who were just as eligible and just as good.