Sunday, June 24, 2007


I got quite a surprise this week while making the rounds of my favorite political blogs--Digby gave a speech accepting an award on behalf of the progressive blogosphere, and it turns out she's a woman.

In retrospect this oughtn't surprise me, but it does. I guess it's because she chose a male pseudonym and there's a picture of a guy (Howard Beale) on her site. And she has a traditionally "male" way of writing--direct and confrontational, and highly organized--which when you think about it is not really particularly masculine at all. It's just allowed to seem that way, because it's what we've come to expect.

The first fiction workshop I ever took had a policy of submitting and workshopping stories anonymously. I've never encountered this tactic again and don't employ it myself--for the simple reason that everybody already knows who wrote all the stories. The workshoppee never offers any criticisms, and generally puts on an obvious poker face. Anyway, at the end of the class the prof always asked people to guess who the writer was, and of course everyone got it every time.

My first story for the class was about a woman visiting somebody in the hospital (I think), and when the workshop was over people started guessing. Nobody guessed me--the guesses were all women, presumably because the story was about one.

When you come down to it, most gender identifiers are bullshit, and I can certainly understand why a political blogger would want to establish a genderless identity for his or her ideas before eventually spilling the beans. But why would a fiction writer do it? Joe Klein, who has become so odious and embarrassing I can barely type his name without sighing deeply, did it so that his journalist self wouldn't be punished for mocking the Clintons (as if any journalist in the history of the world has gotten anything but approval for that)--in my view, a pretty lame move. Can anybody think of any other anonymous and pseudonomous novelists? (Not memoirists, please.) Did their reasons for anonymity make sense?

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Burl Veneer said...

In sci-fi there is the famous case of James Tiptree, Jr., a pseudonym adopted by former CIA employee Alice Sheldon to escape gender bias in the genre (more or less). Not having "been there" during the pre-unmasking period (1967-1977), I can't really say whether it made sense or not. In the horror world there are the 1930s novels by "R.R. Ryan," famously rare (so much so that I've never seen a copy) and equally disturbed/disturbing (so I've read). "Ryan" has only recently been identified as (probably) British actor Cameron Carr, but his reasons for writing pseudonymously, and most of the details of his life, remain shrouded in mystery. Then there's the whole Richard Bachman thing...

jrlennon said...

Ha! Did you see there's a "new" Richard Bachman? I should post about it. In fact, I could write a whole dissertation on Stephen King's introductions and afterwords to his books. The general theme of them is "I had a moment of doubt, but it turns out I'm pretty marvelous after all!"

There is a recent Tiptree biography I'm curious to read...

bhadd said...

George Eliot was wretched--her reason should prevent any followers! They follow anyhoo though as noted. Her reason was shame I think--Dorotea's character portrayal.

Anonymous said...

I think anonymity is a good thing, especially when it works to your advantage.

Digby is a woman - wow.

Anonymous said...

I could out a bunch of male romance writers who write as women for better sales. Makes book signings tricky.

Does anyone know when J.K. Rowling was identified as female? Before or after she signed her contract? Is her name not on her books on purpose?

And what's really up with that J.R Lennon dude?

Truly a dude...?