We got more or less diverse poets (depending on how you look at it)

In the aftermath of some of the discussion about diversity in publishing, I thought I’d check how this year’s Best American Poetry stacked up against last year’s for diversity.

There were 73 poets in the 2014 anthology compared to 76 in the 2013. In 2014, 31.5% of the poets had appeared in the three previous anthologies. This compares with 25% in the year before, which signals a bit of a retraction to the safe here (although perennials Billy Collins and Terrance Hayes didn’t make the cut this year, the latter no doubt since he was the guest editor, I’m guessing the former because he’s in the anthology so often it’s nearing cliche status).

What about gender? 41.1% of this year’s authors were female compared to 50% last year. Perhaps a consequence of the difference between having a male and female guest editor? I’m reluctant to spend the time checking more than two year’s worth of BAP so I can’t really say how strong a pattern this is.

Breakdown by race: 2014 has 2.7% Asian, 28.8% African-American, 1.4% Latino, 2.7% Native American and 63% white. 2013 had 7.9% Asian, 9.2% African-American, 1.3% Latino, 1.3% Native American and 78.9% white.

And one more category I’ve been tracking (actually my original category), what percent have creative writing graduate degrees? 68.5–75.8% in the 2014 anthology vs 68.4–71.2% in the 2013 anthology (the range is because there are a handful of poets whose graduate education I wasn’t able to determine through diligent web searches), again bringing us into “safe” territory.

On Goodreads, the average rating for 2014 is 3.42 stars compared to 2013’s 3.38 stars.

So having thrown out a large pile of raw data, what conclusions can we draw? I’m guessing that a big part of the spike in African-American authors in this year’s anthology is from Mr Hayes’s influence. Yet, there was a bit of timidity in their selection. It seemed while I was doing this that most were Cave Canem fellows and only two or at most five) lacked an MFA or other creative writing graduate degree. The choice of these poets didn’t really impact readers’ reactions to the anthology for better or for worse. I haven’t read this year’s anthology yet, but I found last year’s far less satisfying than the 2012 which was when I started reading the series (the collective opinion on Goodreads concurs having given the 2012 anthology, edited by Mark Doty, 3.52 stars. My overall impression is that we have racial diversity at the cost of being more daring with the choice of poets to appear in the anthology.





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