Is There Racial Bias in the World of Book Reviews?


Earlier this year our literary editor Emily Temple posted about the depressing findings of VIDA’s latest survey of the publication rates for women vs. men in important literary outlets. Hoping to figure out where things stand for writers of color in publishing, Roxane Gay at The Rumpus decided to launch a self-proclaimed “fact-finding mission” of her own. Specifically, with some help from her graduate assistant Philip Gallagher, Gay spent 14 weeks examining every book review published last year in The New York Times — 742 titles in total.

“The numbers are grim,” she writes. “Nearly 90% of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white writers. That is not even remotely reflective of the racial makeup of this country, where 72% of the population, according to the 2010 census, is white. We know that far more than 81 books were published by writers of color in 2011. You don’t really need other data sets to see this rather glaring imbalance.”

While Gay admits that her method wasn’t exactly scientific, she hopes that her findings will encourage more inclusive reviewing across the board — that means putting an end to institutional biases based on race, gender, and sexuality. Head over to The Rumpus to read more about this fascinating project.