The CWILA Effect

by Erin Wunker

I’m honoured to once again introduce the annual CWILA Count. Since our organization’s inception in 2012 we have seen a marked shift in the gendered representation in Canada’s literary review culture. What we’re calling “The CWILA Effect” is real: we have seen a quantifiable shift in gender representation in those publications we review year after year. If a publication is included in the CWILA Count our data shows that the following year there is a definitive change in their data. This is good news.

Equally positive is the news that among the reviews counted, Canadian content is featured well over half the time, and Canadian women’s books are gaining ground.

Yet, while the number of women reviewing books is up, there is still a startling lack of change since 2012 for men reviewing women’s books. This year, we see similar trends to those of the previous years – women occupy less review space than men, and male reviewers are far more likely to review men’s books than women’s.

While there are many nuances to this year’s numbers, which the infographics and count methodology detail, what we can take from this fourth count is this: we have seen a steady increase in the number of reviews written by women across the country. In this latest Count we see a 25% increase from the depressing numbers we saw in 2011. Women reviewers are on near-equal footing with their male peers. Again, good news.

We—by which I mean the Board and the Count Team—are continuing to work to improve and nuance our collection of gendered data and gender categories by working to recognize and bring into conversation the work of writers who identify outside the male/female binary. We are also working to expand the Count to be more inclusive of French language publication. The question, both methodological and ethical, of counting for race is as of yet unresolved. While we have not yet had the financial or labour resources to ethically develop a methodology for counting the race of an author that does not reinforce the damaging taxonomies that are an ongoing part of this nation’s colonial legacy, not to mention its ongoing and acute xenophobia. The short of it is that CWILA is addressing the question of race discursively as the organization is not yet certain that an ethical race count is possible. Thus we are producing essays, interviews, and talks as we continue our conversation on issues of race in Canadian literary culture. But is it enough? Is it fast enough? Is it thorough and inclusive and urgent enough to make the kinds of changes this country needs? We doubt it.

And yet we work. The Count is always going to be partial as Count Director Judith Scholes notes, insofar as we can only do so much. And yet, we work because Counting and accounting is a crucial component of changing not only the conversation, but who gets to be a part of the conversation.

Our focus this year – the story – is not just the numbers we have counted. The story is the review culture itself. Without a rich culture of reviewing in Canada we lose public forums in which to think critically and discursively about literature. And so, while we are presenting data that tells an important story, we want to draw attention to and celebrate the small and vibrant group of people doing the hard work of reviewing. Just as CWILA is a small organization that may appear more sturdy and institutionalized than it is, many of Canada’s most prolific reviewers are individuals doing the work because they love it and because it matters.

We asked some of the nation’s most prolific reviewers to share with us why they do the work of talking about books. As you’ll see, some of them were able to share their motivations with us. Their reasons are varied: they do it because they can’t help but engage. They work because they know the positive effects a review—good or bad—can have on a writer’s career. They do it because it is fun to think through the creative work of another. So here’s to the reviewers. Thank you for reading, writing, and thinking in public. Here’s to the publications that make space for reviews. Thank you for valuing literary culture. And here’s to making these spaces for reading, writing, and thinking about literary production in Canada more diverse, more equitable, and more representative of the writers living and working and creating here.

Just as we celebrate reviewers and venues for review, we also recognize that we need to continue to check the health of review culture, and that in great part is the work of CWILA. CWILA, as a diagnostic tool, costs money. We are a small group of mainly volunteers, and while we, like reviewers, do the work because we believe it matters, we cannot continue the labour and maintain the infrastructure without ongoing financial support. If you are able to help us to continue to do the work please consider donating your time or some money to support the Count and ensure we can continue this vital work.

Read the 2014 CWILA Count Methods and Results Essay by Judith Scholes

View the 2014 CWILA Count Infographic

See the 2014 CWILA Count Numbers


Erin Wunker is the Chair of the Board of Directors of CWILA. She teaches Canadian Literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS. Her areas of research and teaching include Canadian literary and cultural production and critical theory. She is a co-founder and editor of the feminist academic blog Hook & Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe.


CLC logoWe gratefully acknowledge the Canadian Literature Centre for their funding and support of this essay.

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