Women in the Literary Landscape

Women in the Literary LandscapeI’m a member of the Women’s National Book Association, formed in 1917 by a group of women booksellers in New York when the all-male American Booksellers Association (ABA) refused to admit women. Those women booksellers were not to be put off; they  formed the WNBA, which celebrated its centennial last November. Of course, a short time after the WNBA, the ABA came calling, asking for a merger of the two organizations. The WNBA politely refused, specifying the value of a separate women’s group.

In November, 2017 when the WNBA centennial was celebrated, there were twelve chapters around the country, doing just fine, thank you. From the beginning, the organization was not limited to booksellers, but to any woman who was involved in the book world: authors, editors, publishers, librarians, printers, literary agents…you get the point. Membership for the past twelve years has changed my life and I hear that comment from members all the time. As a networking and professional development organization, the WNBA creates connections among members in many ways, fostering careers and friendships.

All this is preliminary to letting you know about the book that was published in conjunction with the centennial: Women in the Literary Landscape: A WNBA Centennial Publication. It contains a history of the organization, but more to the point, most of the book is taken up with an overview of women in the literary world in the U.S. from colonial times to the present with social-historical underpinnings.

I was asked to be the editor of the book, but ended up as one of the main contributors. It was a collaborative project that took more than two years. At the start, I searched for other works that had linked all these literary fields–the due diligence part of the process. There were none that I could find. To clarify, no one had written about people in all these fields in one place. I realized that our project that would have real value in the study of women’s place in the literary community. This was thrilling. We began the research and writing.

We asked Doris Weatherford, U.S. women’s historian, to give us a basic narrative. Doris provided a wonderful history going back to colonial times and through the Progressive Era. With that backbone about the women who were movers and shakers (many now forgotten) as printers, publishers, and writers, along with Doris’s insightful comments about social and political history, we were off to a great start. I added information about booksellers, librarians, editors, and publishers, and brought the narrative up to 2017. In each historical section we featured exceptional women and information about what the WNBA was doing in those years.

The book was published in March, 2018, although we had advance copies available in time for the centennial celebration, held at Pen + Brush Gallery in New York  in November. Our publisher is C&R Press, a small independent press that was happy to make our book their first nonfiction title.

More about the book and the women who feature in it in subsequent posts…especially about the woman on the cover, Madge Jenison.


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