This is sort of a silly controversy. Now that we’re out of the age of widespread short story publication, how many times are Vogue and “literary authors” going to be in the same sentence anymore?

Well, if you have the authors coming in for a Victorian fashion shoot, maybe. Except Vogue only got actual male authors for the shoot. The female “author” in the picture is actually a leggy supermodel who as far as we know, has no burgeoning literary career. As this spread was created to highlight a literary festival, held this year in honor of a revered female author, Edith Wharton, with actual female authors in attendance, more than a few ladies were peeved.

Some thought the supermodel substitution was because female authors aren’t always paragons of beauty, to which I say, that’s what you have a wardrobe and makeup crew for. I could barely recognize Junot Diaz, Jeffery Eugenidies, and Jonathan Safran Foer in the pile of satin. And even if the makeup and clothes don’t disguise much, you’re only seeing her from the front and she’s surrounded by other good-looking people, right? To me, there’s no excuse why Vogue, Annie Leibovitz and everyone else involved could not have found a women writer to be in the shot.

We could argue the nature of beauty, if one less than beautiful thing in a picture spoils it. We could argue the fact that Leibovitz of all people should know what it’s like to be a woman working your way to the top in a creative profession. But why bother? The whole thing strikes me as shallow, petty, and truly tone-deaf on Vogue’s part. Even the women writers worried than in voicing their dismay, they would too come across as shallow and petty. Basically the photo shoot was a bit of fluff made fluffier by the omission of a literary lady. And I’m sure we’ll all move on in a few minutes, except for the fact that this is just how it’s always been for women writers, and if we don’t point it out, nothing is going to change.

When you think of the literary 1920s, you don’t think of Edith Wharton right away, do you? You think of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Why not Edith Wharton? She was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize! The Age of Innocence is a great read, what I always wanted Pride and Prejudice to be but never was. But Edith Wharton sort of assumes a second-class status in classic writers. It may or may not have anything to do with her sex (Virginia Woolf gets a higher billing, perhaps because of her stylistic innovations), but it shouldn’t. Were there an Edith Wharton alive today, and there’s quite a few contenders, I’d hope we’d value her in all the ways a great writer should be valued  (traditionally for their skill with assembling words and plot, not their nose shape or waist size). Even silly little things like a Vogue photo shoot.~Liz

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