The Fifth Annual Dyson/WNBA Lecture series | Women in the Literary Landscape: Challenges and Opportunities

By: Allison Keene

To celebrate the release of its much-anticipated book Women in the Literary Landscape, the Women’s National Book Association and Pace University hosted a high-energy panel of female writers and publishers to discuss the challenges that women face in the book industry.The panel, titled “Women in the Literary Landscape: Challenges and Opportunities,” featured Columbia University professor Alice Kessler-Harris, John Jay College and CUNY Graduate Center professor Blanche Wiesen Cook, Pace professor and co-founder of Avidly Sarah Blackwood, and executive director and publisher of Feminist Press Jamia WilsonRosalind Reisner, editor and contributing author of Women in the Literary Landscape, moderated the panel.

Women in the Literary Landscape, co-edited by Rosalind Reisner and Valerie Tomaselli, is a history of the WNBA and a celebration of the work that women have performed in the book industry since its inception. Chronicling the stories of women across the industry – including librarians, editors, writers, and publishers — Reisner and Tomaselli explore the history of publishing in the context of the WNBA and the pursuit of women’s rights.

“We wanted to include the full range of women’s experiences in this book,” Reisner said. “We wanted to tell the story of women who paved the way – and continue to pave the way – and to show in what ways the literary landscape has changed. Or not.”

Kessler-Harris, Wilson, and Cook

For Tomaselli, the most surprising revelation of their research was the intimate connection between the founding of the WNBA in 1917 and the women’s suffrage movement. In the book, Tomaselli and Reisner discuss research that places the founders of the WNBA at the 1917 New York State protest marches for women’s suffrage, events that took place three years before the passing of the 19th Amendment.

“Our founders marched in those protests, and that was just weeks before the founding of the WNBA,” Tomaselli said. “It surely enthused them to form an organization to support each other.”

Psychotherapist and playwright Clare Coss attended the panel in support of her friends on the panel Alice Kessler-Harris and Jamia Wilson and her partner Blanche Wiesen Cook. She stated that the challenges of women in the publishing industry are ongoing, a fact demonstrated by the panelists, who are from two different generations and a variety of backgrounds. According to Closs, the WNBA’s new book Women in the Literary Landscape captures the history of the struggle.

Wilson, Cook, and Blackwood

“It’s something that we really need,” Closs said. “We don’t think about women getting access to platforms for their ideas. [The book] is an amazing collection of what we’ve been doing since the very beginning in 1917.”

For Reisner and Tomaselli, the goal of the book is to show how integral women have always been to the publishing world and to inspire deeper research into the subject.

“Women really moved the book world forward,” Tomaselli said. “And that’s an undertold story.”

For more information on the Women’s Suffrage Movement, check out our previous post on the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State.