It was a regular, quiet Monday night of muted jazz and pool games in most of the bars down North 11th Street. The red brick warehouse of the Brooklyn Brewery, however, reverberated with the chatter of a 300-plus crowd, gathered in support of the first annual VIDA fundraiser, sponsored by Riverhead Books.
VIDA, a nonprofit organization that supports women in literary arts, was formed almost three years ago to tally up the inequalities between men and women authors and poets. The resulting statistics, called “The Count,” shook the publishing world by revealing the low percentage of female-authored published work–The New Republic, for instance, only published 78 women overall in 2010, compared to a whopping 344 men.
It’s not surprising, then, that most of the guests at the fundraiser were young women. “It’s like a Mt. Holyoke mixer with Emerson boys,” Sande Boritz Berger, whose writing career spans the last four decades, remarked.
The party was both for those involved in the literary scene and those who party on the fringes of it. It was for those like 24-year-old Libby Segal, an associate producer at Channel 25 thinking about eventually publishing a book about her project, “The Hobby Hoarder.” It was for people like Canadian Jane Hu, who simply came with friends. It was for Sam Ross and his boyfriend Pat Abatiell, who came in support of their former professor, poet and author Cate Marvin. They mixed with editors, from magazines and publishing industries such as Penguin and the New York Times.
It was almost a place for Ryan Gosling. Riverhead Books publicist and fundraiser organizer Jynne Martin revealed that they had tweeted an invitation to the face of the Internet meme “Feminist Ryan Gosling.”
“We had a whole Twitter campaign to try to make sure other men came. We were trying to get Ryan Gosling to come,” she said. “I’m afraid he didn’t reply to any of our anonymous tweets begging him to make an appearance.”
It was also a place for established writers like Meg Wolitzer, novelist and author of The Uncoupling. “My friends and I who were novelists…it went without saying that things were not right, that they were not equitable. But we didn’t have numbers behind it,” she said, remembering the days before VIDA’s Count.
Since its inception, VIDA has published more statistics on magazine bylines. When asked if she had noted any improvement Ms. Marvin, who is on VIDA’s executive board, shook her head.
“But we have had good news that some magazines have been counting themselves,” she added.
Jen Fitzgerald, who is in charge of The Count, also commented on the note of optimism. “We did Tin House for our first count, but not for our second count. But they got upset about that because they had actually made an effort to have more female writers, so they counted themselves and sent it to us,” she said.
Ms. Marvin also revealed that VIDA, which has been very much a grassroots movement, would start a membership program in January 2013.
“We want to generate revenue in order to create programs that really work,” she said.
“We want to formalize and build a real quality network for women writers,” said Jennine Capó Crucet, also a member of VIDA’s executive board.
“There are really exciting programs that we just need a way to support, and membership dues and things like that will go a long way towards providing us the things we’re excited about, like mentorship workshops for women who are interested in having one-on-one relationships with other artists. We also want membership so we can know what women writers want and need from us, so that we can respond in concrete ways to the things that we’ve shown through The Count.”
Ms. Crucet and Ms. Marvin remarked that there was some resistance to VIDA’s work. But the men present at the party were fully supportive of the The Count and the issues it represented.
Poet Timothy Donnelly, who was there with his wife, writer Lynn Melnick, said that those resistant to VIDA’s intentions needed to open up their perspective, and collect “not just a stable of men” as their writers.
Three poets—Nicholas Adamski, co-founder of the Poetry Society of New York; John Deming; and Matthew Yeager, curator of the KGB Monday Night Poetry Series—sat on one of the wooden benches, sipping their beers.
“We all work in organizations where we are partners with women,” said Mr. Adamski.
“Women brought us on into the world,” Mr. Yeager cut in.
“That’s fucking right!” exclaimed a girl next to him.
“It’s crucial to have an organization like this that have a check and balance,” interjected Mr. Deming.
“I mostly know of VIDA because of this watchdog function,” added Mr. Adamski. “We’re hopeful for a time when VIDA doesn’t have to be a watchdog, when it can just be an organization that champions women writers.
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