But fifteen years later and sixty-four book selections after those first selections, Oprah’s book club authors are starting to look the same: white and male. Oprah’s Book Club hasn’t selected a novel written by a woman since 2004, and out of the twenty most recent selections, only three authors of color exist: Uwern Akpan, Gabriel García Márquez and Sidney Poitier. With the show ending its storied run after this year, the fact absence of more female authors is a glaring omission.
The New York Times Book Review is generally believed to contain the most influential literary criticism in the U.S., but it still doesn’t begin to compare to the Oprah effect – or what’s known as her “million dollar touch.” Oprah has turned classics like John Steinbeck’s East of Eden into sold out books that are only available through waiting lists.
Oprah’s Book Club is, well, Oprah’s book club and Oprah can do what she wants with it, including only selecting books by male authors. But her show reaches an estimated 44 million people a week. Shouldn’t that come with some responsibility?
Ron Hogan at Beatrice.com argues that Oprah’s influence will have a lasting effect for years to come because of the larger context. Namely, what happens when you select contemporary authors and put them next to the greats?
By juxtaposing contemporary novelists like Cormac McCarthy, David Wroblewski, and Jonathan Franzen with canonical authors like Faulkner, Tolstoy, and Dickens, I would suggest the Oprah Book Club is putting forth an argument about a literary continuum–saying, in essence, these people writing today are as vital to the tradition of the novel as those acknowledged masters. And, for the last six years, not one woman writer has been deemed worthy of placement within that continuum.
Some viewers are similarly disappointed.
“Well, I guess in Oprah’s case, I am disappointed partly because of her position as such a powerful woman,” says Maisha Johnson, a black queer writer and activist in San Francisco who tipped us to this story. And as a writer she realizes she shouldn’t wait for anyone to put her on a list. “You make your own way to the stage, or you create your own stage, or you challenge what we all know of what a stage is and who can stand on it” she says.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve got any suggestions for Oprah.
The following is a list of Oprah’s selections linked to more information via Wikipedia.