HR 41 Editorial

Christina Thompson, graphics by Laura Healy

One of the principles on which we operate at Harvard Review is that of including a mix of contributors, or, to put it another way, a mix of methods by which contributions—poems, stories, essays—find their way to us. We believe it is our job to discover and develop new talent, but we also know that newer writers benefit from being published in the company of writers who are already well known.

That said, we do not make individual publishing decisions on the basis of this principle. We don’t say, Let’s publish her because she is an unknown writer. We publish her because we like her work. And so, as any given issue comes together, we don’t always know what kind of distribution we have of known versus unknown writers, or of writers who have been referred to us versus writers whose manuscripts have arrived in the mail.

So, we decided to break it down. We looked at how many pieces had come to us through professional channels (including writers’ conferences and editorial referrals), how many were written by people we already knew, and how many we had pulled from the slush pile. And, because it is easier to publish writers you have already published, we were pleased to see how many new writers there were. Then, because that was fun, we decided to look at other statistics, including gender, age, and geographic distribution.

In February 2011, an organization called VIDA posted a gender count of contributions to some of the country’s best known literary periodicals, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, and the Times Book Review. The unsurprising result was a marked imbalance in favor of men, both as direct contributors and as authors of books under review. This prompted much soul-searching and data-mining in the less mainstream parts of the literary world, and we at Harvard Review duly went back through the records to see what the balance had historically been. It turned out that we, too, had a history of publishing more men than women, on the order of about 60 /40 in most years. But perhaps that’s changing. In the current issue we found that we have a (slight) preponderance of female contributors.

We have also included a map showing the geographic distribution of our current contributors and­—our personal favorite—a scatter plot of their ages with men represented by black dots and women by white. The outlier is Alfred de Vigny, a French Romantic poet born in 1797, and translated here by our youngest contributor, Joachim Zemmour.