Jennifer Weiner: The Ombudsman of Publishing-World Sexism

We all know that I love Jennifer Weiner. And that, while I enjoy her books, it’s really her perceptiveness of the publishing industry and her willingness to call people out on their ish that makes me a real fan. She questions the institution and the way things have always been done and I really believe that her role as the “ombudsman of publishing-world sexism” is opening the doors for me and female fiction writers everywhere.

The New Yorker wrote a profile on JW and her “quest for literary respect” this week. When women write about an emotional journey they are often marginalized—dismissed as something that is not literature despite containing dark themes or vivid descriptions.  Their work is devalued by places like, well, The New Yorker. The decision for that publication to profile JW is interesting in itself—The New Yorker is one of the few magazines that publishes fiction, but usally written by men. It’s basically part of the uppity institution that JW’s known for criticizing.  I guess profiling her was the magazine’s response to criticism?

But in true New Yorker style, the article was extremely well written and I felt a fair depiction of her. I learned about JW and her career and I admire her even more now. The piece notes that author Jonathan Frazen described JW’s fight against the publishing industry as “self-promotion.” I think he’s right. And I like that. JW seems to have this complete and utter trust in her abilities and instincts. First, she confidently writes about people like herself in a style tone that enjoys to read and then, she advocates for herself when it feels like no one else will. The result? Millions of books sold and the elevation to cultural spokeswoman. The reality is that modesty is not always such a virtue when it comes to your career. It’s those who self promote who get noticed and heard. So, whatevs Franzen.

Slate also reacted (in not quite as friendly a way) to this idea of JW’s literary quest as a means of self-promotion.

Anyway below are some highlights from the profile that I found interesting:

  • JW has never been reviewed by the New York Times despite having sold millions of books and been on the best seller list for months. This is interesting because “un-literary” but successful male authors such as Dan Brown have been reviewed several times.
  • The New York Times has made some changes to its Book Review, including hiring Pamela Paul—who cares about gender issues—as the new editor. Recently they introduced a new column called “The Shortlist” that features a capsule of reviews grouped by genre.  JW’s response? “Maybe they are doing focus groups, and lots of people are, like, ‘Could you please not write all the time about whatever Presidential biography you are reviewing for the second time?’”
  • On JW’s separation from her husband: “We expected that things would proceed one way—he’d be the primary breadwinner, a successful attorney, and I’d make less money, stay home with the kids, with fiction essentially a lucrative hobby…When it didn’t work out that way, I think we both had a hard time rewriting the contract of the marriage.”
  • This quote from Adelle Waldman’s novel “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P”: “Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. . . . It’s meritocracy applied to personal life, but there’s no accountability. We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact. . . . But who cares, right? It’s just girl stuff.”