the weekend had frozen the pipes in my office. Regardless of the intended audience, exposure by way of an annual or anthology offers an essayist a better chance of survival by placing that writer in the orbit of attention, to borrow Barbara Herrnstein Smiths phrase, of current and future readers of nonfiction (10). In the last few years, it has risen from there: 38 percent in 2013 (Strayed 48 percent in 2014 (John Jeremiah Sullivan 41 percent in 2015 (Ariel Levy). The vida authors declared the numbers for the first twenty-five years of Best American Essays dire across the board. Still, bias against women writers, often unrecognized, certainly accounts for a portion of a neglect that, in the case of essay anthologies, has become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy over the years. Despite its scope, Wanns anthology is typical for the scarcity of women essayists represented in its pages. Instead, in the history of the essay that scholars and editors have passed down to us, Virginia Woolf is more likely to be acknowledged as the first woman essayist with Joan Didion and Annie Dillard following as Woolfs most well-known, her most often anthologized, descendants. Yet, despite a shared sense of the essays neglect, which each editor hopes to rectify by putting forward the best of the best, Walter and Atwan are guided by different objectives. In 2011, for example, the year Edwidge Danticat served as guest editor, the volume featured thirteen essays by women and eleven essays by men, the first time in twenty years (and not repeated since) that women accounted for the majority of essays in a Best. Critic John Guillory is right: the historical process of canon formation, even or especially at the moment of institutional judgment, is too complex to be reduced to determination by the single factor of the social identity of the author (17).
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Some years are particularly abysmal: Only 10 percent of the essays in Gay Taleses volume (1987) were written by women; in Stephen Jay Goulds (2002 17 percent; and in Hardwicks (1986 18 percent. The Oxford Book of American Essays (1913) is one such anthology, edited by Brander Matthews and offered to readers as proof that American essayists are just as good as British ones, an argument that American literary critics had been making for two centuries, not just. For the literary historian, the anthology provides an attractive short cut to the orbits of years past. Many of the women also noted how much their careers had benefited by inclusion in the series, underscoring the importance of what Best American Essays, because of its significance, can door not dofor essayists. While the overall number of women represented in The Best American Essays remains at 31 percent for the life of the series to date, some progress has been made since the 2010 vida Count. In contemporary anthologies, however, Meynell and Repplier are almost always absent, unable to survive the editorial whims of literary history. The Best American Essays series, enjoying the spoils of the revival Atwan helped financial empowerment essay to spark. In fact, Joyce Carol Oates 1991 volume is the only one that comes close to achieving gender parity with eleven essays by women and ten essays by men. Atwan, on the other hand, in a way few essay editors before him had, wants to celebrate the essay not simply as a means to deliver the goods but as the goods themselves: This new series calls attention to the essay as a vital and. Over fifty years later, writing the foreword to the first volume. To my relief, when I stepped into my sodden office the next morning, I found the books I most treasure high and dry, including all thirty volumes. The fact of the matter remains, though, in a literary publishing world still largely dominated by male voices, especially in these so-called top tier publications, anthology editors must work harder to tell a more accurate history of the essay: Women write essays; they write best.
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