White Rules? Are book reviews biased?

Kim Scott

American writer Roxanne Gay checked the books reviewed last year in ‘The New York Times’ Of the 742 books reviewed 655 were by Caucasian authors, 33 by Asian writers, 31 by African or Afro-American, 9 Hispanic, 8 Middle-Eastern and 6 were not identifiable. This does not represent the American population. Is there bias in selecting books to be reviewed or are proportionately fewer books from ethnic minorities submitted for review? How do Australian reviews compare? I’ve no idea. Has any study been made? Certainly I don’t think our literary award judges exhibit any bias. For instance our most prestigious award, The Miles Franklin, has been won by indigenous authors in 3 of the last 12 years. Kim Scott won in both 2000 and 2011 with ‘Benang’ and ‘That Deadman Dance’ respectively. Alexis Wright won in 2007 with ‘Carpentaria’.

Of ‘Benang’ The Weekend Australian reviewer wrote, “…..’Benang’ soars to the level of superb storytelling with an emotional punch to the guts, not unlike Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved'”.

‘Carpentaria’ is an Aboriginal epic which sings with oral tradition. It is a big book in every sense and should not be read on the bus or while eating dinner. It demands solitude, quiet and brainspace in order to weave its magic.

P.S. Like to comment on this blog? You could win a Brays Books Voucher – see earlier blog, ‘Win Brays Books Vouchers’.


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This entry was posted in Alexis Wright, Australian, Fiction, Kim Scott, Musings, Philip Bray. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to White Rules? Are book reviews biased?

  1. Thanks for the post and providing the opportunity to comment and win a book voucher.

    With the demise of print media, the responsibility for maintaining diversity in reviewing will increasing fall to individuals on social media platforms such as Good Reads; book reviewers for online journals, libraries and bookshops; as well as amateur and sponsored bookbloggers. The issue of “visibility” for Indigenous and other under-represented writing groups, however, will be key. How do we readers get to know what books are out there to read?

    While attempting to redress the gender bias of reviews in traditional Australian media, some participants of the Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge (established for the National Year of Reading) have also been keen to promote diversity. After discussing the problem of visibility, several bookbloggers and academics have shared links via Twitter that Brays Bookshop customers might find useful.

    A fantastic resource for Indigenous literature is Dr Anita Heiss’s Black Book Challenge: http://anitaheissblog.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/anitas-bbc-black-book-choice-reading.html

    The above list will prove specially useful to people intending to join in the Indigenous Literature Week challenge hosted by ANZ Litlovers blog (July 1-8, 2012):

    Historian Yvonne Perkins has compiled a list of histories and biographies by Indigenous writers: 

    Dr Tseen Khoo has compiled a list of Asian-Australian authors:

    If Brays staff or any of Brays’ customers know any other online resources that promote diversity in Australian literature, #AWW2012 challenge participants would be very interested to explore the links.

    Twitter: @auswomenwriters

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