CWILA interviews editor Tina Northrup offers an introduction to “An Interview with Bronwyn Drainie” by Chelsea Novak, originally published July 5th, 2013. Read the interview here.
As we continue to digest the numbers collected by CWILA’s survey of book reviews and books reviewed in Canada in 2013, I find myself mulling over the questions that Chelsea Novak and Bronwyn Drainie raise in the conversation they conducted soon after the 2012 numbers were collected.
The 2011, 2012, and 2013 CWILA Counts show that the LRC publishes a higher percentage of book reviews written by men, and reviews a higher percentage of books authored by men. As Drainie notes, the LRC’s mandate is to cover “non-fiction and public policy books and essays,” and she suggests that these fields still house disproportionately high numbers of men—numbers that the LRC can’t help but reflect. This point brings Drainie to another, as she writes:
“[. . .] when I do approach women to review things for us, much more often than with men, they turn me down. And they turn me down, usually, for reasons that have to do with time and timetables: ‘I’m just too busy’; ‘I’m overloaded’; ‘I can’t take on anything else.’ That kind of a reason, and now this is just my own theory, but it seems to me that these fewer women that we talked about, who are in these interesting positions in the academy, are very much in demand. They’re in demand in their own universities to be on committees, to be on panels, to survey PhD candidates—things of that sort. Everyone wants women to be represented, and since there are fewer and fewer of them, more and more gets loaded on their shoulders than on the shoulders of all the men, who can kind of spread the work out, if you will. And therefore, when I come to them from outside the academy, and writing for our magazine is not going to earn them any brownie points within the university system, I understand that a lot of them are going to say, ‘No, I’m sorry. I’m too overloaded. I’m too busy. I can’t do it.’”
In her Introduction to the 2013 CWILA Count, Erin Wunker speaks of the stories that numbers alone can’t expose: “stories of workload, gender expectation, and gendered and racial diversity to name a few.” Drainie’s comments gesture to entrenched inequalities throughout the upper echelons of Canada’s knowledge industries, but they also raise provocative questions about what “counts” as valuable work. As poet and scholar Kate Eichhorn’s recent essay on “Reading the Evidence” suggests, the academic “brownie points” to which Drainie refers really mean “publications that matter in bids for promotion and tenure, or that qualify as ‘service to the profession.’”
From the beginning, CWILA’s members have maintained that numbers and charts are points of entry into nuanced conversations. Although we can and will raise questions when individual reviewing venues carry disproportionate figures, our interests run deeper. Drainie’s thoughts are not the final word on gender and non-fiction, nor do CWILA’s numbers represent the ultimate estimation of the LRC. Together, they invite us to consider the extent to which ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny in literary, scholarly, and publishing cultures in Canada, as well as how we might reckon asymmetrical experiences of labour, leisure, communitarian responsibility, and competing demands upon writers’ and readers’ time. Not least for these reasons, I value this interview, and encourage CWILA’s members and readers to continue the conversation it begins.
Tina Northrup currently lives in Halifax, and teaches part-time in the English Department at Mount St. Vincent University. She has published articles on the writings of Anne Carson, Erin Mouré, and Jan Zwicky, along with a handful of poetry reviews in TAR and CNQ. Her teaching and research interests are in ecopoetics, epistemology, feminisms, and critical pedagogy, particularly in Canadian contexts.