There has been much discussion on the Internet about gender distribution in the bylines of high-profile journals and magazines after the release of the 2012 VIDA Count. Most of the publications surveyed published a laughably small number of women compared to men — perhaps most notably Harper’s, whose ratio surprised many, including the editors of more gender-equitable magazines who we recently interviewed. So, maybe they just need a few suggestions of great lady essayists to solicit for contributions? (Forget that they should already be well aware of these women.) Great. We have some. But since there are many more than ten who could, and perhaps should, be on this list, be sure to add your own favorites in the comments or tweet them @flavorwire, and we’ll put together a follow-up reader’s choice post filled with even more great female writers to read up on.
As far as we’re concerned, Susan Orlean is the first lady of serious creative/narrative nonfiction. We’re hoping it’s her longtime New Yorker staff writer status that keeps her from writing for Harper’s, because we can’t even gesture at another possibility.
Well, firstly, because Roxane Gay should write for every publication. And secondly, because she’s a distinct voice who constantly teaches us new things and challenges our perceptions — which is just what a magazine like Harper’s should be aiming for. As she so eloquently puts it (on this very topic!), “We get so bogged down in these numbers that we forget that diversity isn’t just about numbers. It is about diversity of thought and one of the best ways to include a diversity of thought is by sharing perspectives from a diverse group of people who will, by virtue of who they are and how they move through the world, have interesting things to say. It’s simplistic to say this is simply about men and women. It’s about so much more.”
Sandra Tsing Loh
In case you somehow failed to start reading Sandra Tsing Loh after we pointed you directly at her fantastic essay “The Bitch Is Back,” wherein she declares herself the reader’s personal “Virgil to the literature of menopause,” allow us to reiterate. Besides, we can’t think of anything a semi-stodgy publication like Harper’s needs more than a menopausal, no-nonsense Virgil taking on the issues women and other humans actually face.
You’ve already heard us go on and on about how much we loved Wild, Strayed’s recent memoir (Oprah agrees with us, and therefore we are above reproach), but she is also an adept, soul-baring essayist masquerading — and in the process, functioning — as a top-notch advice columnist. Maybe she could give Harper’s some.
Here’s another one that genuinely surprises us — Vowell is everything that a “general interest” publication should want: a funny, canny pop-culture commentator with a built-in audience and a half dozen books about American culture under her belt. Too hip for Harper’s? Maybe, but that also might be just what they need.
The editor of The Rumpus’s Funny Women column earns her title there and elsewhere, with spot-on essays with titles like “Addicted to Netflix: Teen-Soap-Opera Binge As Psychosis.” She also has excellent literary taste, the perfect augmentation to any hilarious writer.
Jo Ann Beard
A master of creative nonfiction — the personal essay, in particular — Jo Ann Beard seems like she should be a shoo-in for the Harper’s roster. Consider this: her incredibly brilliant “The Fourth State of Matter” was selected by Robert Atwan, the founder of The Best American Essays series, as one of the ten best written since 1950, one of only two (with David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster”) written after 1995 to make the list. You’d think every current publication would be doing their best to snap her up.
Kingsolver is one of those Swiss Army authors — a novelist, essayist, poet and writer of long-form non-fiction all in one. With two excellent books of essays under her belt, and a serious commitment to literature of social change, we’d like to see her writing for every magazine. When she has the time, that is.
Because Jill Lepore is way, way smarter than you.
Pasulka writes about everything from gender to architecture to the music one hears in funeral homes and, according to her bio, “believes inequality is a form of violence.” What do you have to say about that, Harper’s?