Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Quotable Sherman Alexie

I can't believe I forgot to blog about this, but this goes way back to the Skagit River Poetry Festival.

It was a comment Sherman Alexie made that he said got him into trouble, but he stands by it. An interviewer once asked him who he wrote for and he said, "College-educated white women because they are ones who buy books."  Apparently this comment caused a bit of a brouhaha.

But at the reading in Skagit he said this is what he believes because these are the people who make up "literary audience.  If you're not appealing to them, you have no career whatsoever."  He said, "Saying that caused a controversy, but they (college-educated white women) are the ones who will cross boundaries."

I thought this was an interesting comment by him.  He believes 70% of all literary audiences are made up by this demographic.  

Sitting in the audience, I looked around and what did I see-- a group of white women who most likely had degrees.  He even pointed out our audience as well, saying there weren't as many men in attendance at the reading.

I made a point to write down that quote because I knew Jeannine Hall Gailey would love to hear that since she has been saying this since I first met her.  

So I'm curious, do you think this is true?  Do more women or men buy books?  Do more women or men buy poetry books?  Does it matter?   


  1. I bet you and he and Jeanine are right! That is, right to say it and ask it and provoke our curiosity about it...and probably right that college-degreed white women buy more books!

    By chance, I was just with a group of men and women (mixed in age but probably all college-degreed) who were discussing a Sherman Alexie story!

  2. Yes, I had heard that somewhere when I worked (briefly) in publishing, and I think it's probably true.
    Which just makes any gender imbalance in publishing that much more upsetting - if more top editors are men, more top prizes go to men, but the books are being read by women...
    And, of course, I come from a long line of book-loving women. My great-great grandmother was the only woman in her town who could read, so she became the default postmistress. I always loved that story.

  3. I'm certain this is true, and it may be higher. Most MFAW candidates where I attended were women, most attendees to readings were women, etc.

    Reading may not be couched as masculine in schools, especially poetry.

    I read that women contribute less than 40% of contents in literary journals, which is just amazing.

  4. THanks for the note. It was an interesting comment. And he really said he got a lot of backlash for it.

    I do know a lot of women and they buy lots of books, but I don't think it's just white women. I think educated in the keyword. Or women who are interested in learning.

    Of course, men obviously buy books. My husband soars through novels. He's a fast reader too!

    I'm not sure how we would find this out. Or if this even matters.

    I just like that he said something that caused a stir.

  5. Maybe he's referring to teachers... he has written a few YA novels lately


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