Why start a literary journal for women writers?

As writers, we thrive when we engage with works that inspire our own projects. As a community of writers, we empower ourselves and others when we encourage women to advance their perceptions and convictions in a public forum through publication. Canthius Journal began with the desire to build such a community and to respond to the inequity in contemporary literary publishing by initiating a new space in which women's voices can be shared.

Both the American organisation VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and the Canadian CWILA (Canadian Women in Literary Arts) publish annual counts tracking gender balance in the literary arts. Their most recent reports show that male writers continue to outnumber female writers in both American and Canadian literary journals (VIDA report here; CWILA report here).These statistics give us a framework in which to discuss gender equality; they act as conversation-starters and essential reminders of gender disparity in literary circles. They are also markers of cultural and social patterns that are reflected in the decisions made by editors and reviewers that publish and discuss literature thereby defining whose literary output reaches the public.  

It takes a concerted effort to respond to sexism in a pro-active way, to take responsibility for the way a community has condoned gender inequity. We hope to see more journals actively incorporate representational justice into their publication models. In her introduction to the 2013 CWILA count, "Public + Women = Risky", CWILA Chair Erin Wunker calls representational justice “the deliberate mechanisms that ensure marginalized groups are represented in a given context.” We wish to adopt Wunker's notion of representational justice, in particular its focus on "deliberate mechanisms." In the not-so-recent Flavorwire article “It Isn’t Rocket Science: ‘Tin House’ and ‘Granta’ Editors on How to Run a Publication That Isn’t Sexist”, Tin House's Rob Spillman explains how and why publishers should actively seek gender balance. We quote him at length here as an example of how such deliberate mechanisms may function in context: 

We did a thorough analysis of our internal submission numbers and found that the unsolicited numbers are evenly split, while the solicited (agented, previous contributors, etc.) were 67/33 male to female. We found that women contributors and women we rejected with solicitations to resubmit were five times less likely to submit than their male counterparts. So we basically stopped asking men, because we knew they were going to submit anyway, and at the same time made a concerted effort to re-ask women to contribute. We then started asking both male and female writers if there are any women writers they would like to champion. It has been a total editorial team effort, and each editorial meeting we take a look at our upcoming issues to see where we are for balance. Again, these are all simple solutions. What I found interesting was that we had all assumed that we were gender balanced, when in fact we weren’t. Now, with a concerted effort, we know that we are.

Yup, not rocket science.

All of this said, it is also important to note that at Canthius we consider the project of representational justice to include scale-balancing not only for female authors but also for transgender and genderqueer writers. To quote Wunker again, “we have a responsibility to ask whose knowledges and histories are lost, hidden, or actively marginalized when there is not representational justice in a living literary culture, let alone literary history.”

We also hope to initiate discussion about the critical reception of women's work. There is often an assumption that women's writing is for women only. Cheryl Strayed explored this recently in the New York Times Sunday Book Review saying, “writing by women is often interpreted as smaller, more particular and personal, and presumed to speak specifically to other women, while writing by men is often perceived to be broadly commenting upon social structures, institutions and experiences that are universally relevant and resonant to us all.” To what degree can a literary journal focusing solely on the diversity of women’s writing in Canada dispel assumptions like these?

Of course, there are excellent publications already in production that champion representational justice in the literary arts. Room Magazine, Canada's oldest literary journal for and about women, has been a source of inspiration. As a new journal, we hope to contribute to equitable publication trends in Canadian literary arts and we invite you to join us.