Middle-Aged White Women

At the BEA panel on Granta's new fiction issue, Sherman Alexie voiced the following observation: "All of us are writing for college-educated middle-aged white women".

Well, I know I'M not writing for college-educated middle-aged white women, and I think that the writers I tend to like aren't either (at least, I'm certainly not a middle-aged white woman). And if literary fiction in general, or Granta in specific is aimed at that demo, then that may explain why the so many lit fic writers I've been finding recently haven't been doing anything for me. We need more writers like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem and David Mitchell to keep us guys reading.

(And while I liked Sherman Alexie's Diary of a Part-Time Indian, it wasn't the kind of book that made me want to read his entire backlog, you know?)


I've heard him say that before....

In the Boston Phoenix. From that interview, and based on other comments he's made, I read Alexie to express ambivalence about the fact that as an Native American writer his best chances for success are still being read by college-educated middle-aged white women, but he bristles at the idea that this readership is to be dismissed as a class (because they are women? because they are middle-aged? because they shop at Whole Foods?), and his work along with it, because you know what? College-educated middle-aged white women are reading stuff that no one else is.

Obviously that's an oversimplification. Alexie does not mean to say there aren't white men readers, and certainly not to say that there are no non-white readers. Of course there are. Also note that he says that's not who he writes to, just that he knows that's who's reading him. But there's this game that some people play, where literary writers who get too successful get torn down by having been lumped in with some demographic presumed to be unserious, like, say, college-educated white women, or Oprah viewers, or science fiction fans, as if they don't count. It's the same rhetorical trick as saying that Obama isn't as popular as he seems because his approval among African Americans skews the results.

You will be read by the readership you have, not the readership you wish you had. Bellyaching that certain people aren't reading doesn't accomplish anything, and blaming it on what writers write is just Stockholm syndrome. That's not to say that the readership is perfect, or that it is receptive to anything of merit. They have blind spots like everyone else. Just that these are the readers who are making an effort, and to dismiss them in favor of some readership who ought to exist is cutting of your nose to spite your face, at best.

I certainly don't think we

I certainly don't think we should dismiss middle-aged white women, I just don't think we should dismiss everyone else either. But your point is well taken, the publishers are giving people what they'll buy, and middle-aged, college educated white women are a big reading demo.

I just, you know, don't see them following Wet Asphalt.


All your lurkers are belong to us.

Elderly white woman, I suppose.