Joyce Carol Oates claims White male authors are in trouble.
Along with the link, Oates wrote: “A friend who is a literary agent told me that he cannot even get editors to read first novels by young white male writers, no matter how good; they are just not interested. this is heartbreaking for writers who may, in fact, be brilliant, & critical of their own ‘privilege.'”
Her tweet immediately sent waves through the publishing and literary world, as many bred to criticize Oates’ opinion.
“Can you get a job? Yes. Is it harder? Yes. It’s even harder for older writers,” he said. “You don’t meet many 52-year-old white males.”
James Patterson made similar comments last month in an interview with the Sunday Times. Credit: Nathan Congleton/NBC/Getty Images
Days later, Patterson walked back his comments in a Facebook post, saying he “strongly” supports “a diversity of voices being heard.”
Regardless, the sentiment that White men in literary publishing are oppressed in some way continues to surface. Many working in the industry disagree.
That audit, published in November of last year, did not include a simultaneous breakdown by gender and race. Still, Penguin Random House, one of the largest book publishers in the world, found that White contributors accounted for 76% of books released between 2019 and 2021. Separately, 34% were men.
“Those charts make it VERY clear that white writers are the majority,” Watters said in an email to CNN.
Penguin Random House found that 76% of its books between 2019 and 2021 were by White authors. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Lisa Lucas, publisher of Knopf imprints Pantheon and Schocken Books, also pointed out issues with Oates’ assessment — saying that the oppression of White men in publishing is simply “not a thing.”
Lucas did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The obstacles writers of color face can continue even after a book is bought.
In 2020, during a movement called #PublishingPaidMe, many authors published the amounts they’d received for each of their books — exposing some of the racist pay disparities rampant in literary publishing.
Roxane Gay did not make six figures for her books until “Hunger.” Credit: Presley Ann/Getty Images
“I, a totally unknown White woman with one viral article, got an advance that was more than double what (Gay) got for her highest advance,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Even after Salvage the Bones won the NBA, my publishing company did not want to give me 100k for my next novel,” Ward said. “My agent and I fought and fought before we wrestled our way to that number.”
Literary publishing, then, certainly has its issues. But despite Oates’ fears, White men may not be the worst off.