On women in publishing and an intersectional feminist booklist

Photo of Christen Thomas.

Christen Thomas is Executive Director of the Literary Press Group, a national association of 60 Canadian literary publishers, and serves on boards as Chair of the Book and Periodical Council and Secretary of eBOUND Canada. Previously, Christen worked in various roles for eBOUND Canada, Firefly Books, Formac Publishing, and James Lorimer and Company, in digital, marketing, production, and editorial. Christen is a published poet, roller derby skater, cycling advocate, and feminist killjoy.

Christen will be speaking on the Women in Publishing panel at Tech Forum 2018. 

At Ryerson's publishing program in the 2000s, almost all of my classmates were women. I read an article about publishing being the “pink-collared industry,” in that its ranks consist primarily of overeducated, underpaid, usually heterosexual, middle-class white women. Where are the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ women in publishing? And where are the women at the top of the managerial chain? Publishing totally has a diversity, equity, and inclusion problem.   

My first publishing internship (and I recognize my privilege at being able to afford to do two, on top of other part-time jobs) was at the now-defunct Descant literary magazine. I was the production coordinator on the issue "Entering the Other" that showcased Barbara Gowdy. Authors submitted writing and artwork to celebrate Gowdy, the issue included an excerpt of her new novel, and it looked back at her career up to that point.

One story in the issue reminisced about a time in 1990 when Gowdy appeared on a televised book panel and a fellow panellist made some joking remark along the lines of “You’re smarter than you look.” Gowdy shut him down, saying, “There’s a great big brain stuffed up underneath my skirt.”

Margaret Atwood saw the panel when it aired, held onto the memory for 15 years, and finally made it into a cartoon, which she donated to support the Descant issue.

An interviewer asks Barbara the question, "Why did they choose you to review this weighty, important, intellectual book?" Barbara replies, "Because I've got this great big brain stuffed up underneath my skirt." Below this scene Atwood writes, "Why we love Barbara."

How have things changed today? Atwood has disappointed us "woke banshees" by misrepresenting Roxane Gay's term “Bad Feminist” in her continued defence of #UBCAccountable. Where our old heroes disappoint, there’s a new guard in Canadian feminist literature to valourize: I am learning from and actively following the conversations of #CanLitAccountable and #CanLitPhenom, celebrating women doing great work in our sector, including speaking out about #MeToo and #TimesUp.

At the Literary Press Group, we're an equal-opportunity employer and strongly support and value diversity in the workplace. We also know we can do better. We are working with Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario (CPAMO) to create an action plan around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We plan to redouble our efforts in editorial content, professional development programming, and collective marketing around these priorities.

Our members are working with diverse authors and are publishing important work that empowers women.

Here are some LPG staff reading recommendations for the intersectional feminist:

If you'd like to hear more from Christen Thomas and the Women in Publishing panel, register for Tech Forum, March 23, 2018 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for our mailing list to get all of the conference updates.